Category Archives: motivation

Unfinished (Glass City Marathon Race Report)

I have always found that writing endings is one of the hardest things. How do you wrap it all up? How do you tie up the loose ends without putting too perfect a bow on it? How do you craft that finish that leaves just the right taste and leaves the mind thinking on it for the the next hours, or days?

Races have the ending down pat. Because there is a clear finish line – a clear line of demarcation – yet there is always a desire, a taste for more. There is satisfaction in completion, and the thought of the next goal, the next challenge.

But here I sit, wondering how even to begin to talk about a race that didn’t have a finish? Sure, it had an ending. I can recall laying on the ground, words coming out in wheezing monosyllables, and I at last reached over to hit STOP on my watch. Stop. Done. Over. End. But no finish.

Over the last three-and-a-half years since my first DNF, I have been almost fascinated by how that race report remains one of my most read blog posts – by far. It isn’t really surprising, though, because we have all been there. And if we haven’t, we will be eventually. If you run long enough, you will – almost inevitably – experience a disastrous race. You will stumble into an obstacle so enormous that even the most stubborn runner must pull the plug and call it quits. Sometimes we don’t get to make this decision for ourselves. And even when we do, the tears inevitably come, because that’s the thing with marathons – you train for months on end for one day, one chance. And so many stars must align for you to arrive at that start line healthy and fit, and to get to the finish in one piece. One misalignment can lead to disaster, and while we can strive to control many of the possible elements, there are some X factors we cannot control, sometimes cannot even foresee.

So, what happened at the Glass City Marathon? Something I have never in my life experienced. Vertigo. But let’s back up. Back to the beginning. Back to race week, the final days of the taper.

Pre-race

This spring has been a doozy. Work stress. Family stress. Too much travel. Too many things on my plate. And the exhaustion of marathon training makes all of this that much harder to deal with. So it isn’t surprising that I got sick. I frequently get sick during training, though I noticed since working with my coach, I hadn’t been getting sick so much in the thick of training – before then, I almost always got a head cold either when I was peaking, my body and immune system crushed by miles, or early on in the taper, the sudden decrease of mileage and demand and allowing my body to rest also seemingly allowing it to succumb to one viral plague or another.

The Wednesday before Glass City, I woke up to go to my last physical therapy session for my foot before going to work. It was a rest day, and all I did was a few minutes warmup on the bike and went through my exercises and stretches. Nothing at all strenuous. Just making sure all systems were go. As my PT and I discussed, my foot had been steadily improving. I noticed it less and less on runs, and some runs I had no issues whatsoever. I knew I’d need some full rest post-race to kick out the last bit of inflammation, but I was good to go.

I noticed that morning, though, that I was feeling a little congested. I’m often congested in the mornings first thing after waking, and of course pollen counts are still soaring this time of year, so I tried to write it off to that. Even so, I began pounding more fluids – also a good plan for marathon week – and planned to get to bed early (ditto). Thursday I felt about the same. That hint of congestion that raised a little yellow flag in the back of my mind, but I was determined to hope for the best. If it was a cold, maybe I could kill it early with hydration and sleep.

Friday, I woke up sick. Not horribly, but it was definitely viral cold nasal congestion. I conferred with my coach, who reassured me that I would probably be fine as long as symptoms remained above the neck. I just needed to keep up with rest and fluids. I did my best to focus at work – a mix of last-minute stress of getting ready for a big work event that would take place the Tuesday following the race, hydrating plenty and running to the bathroom frequently, and race week distraction (how many times can I check the forecast in a single day?) plagued me, but I got through. I left work at 3:30, and by about 4 pm we were on the road to the airport in earnest, Google taking us on a strange backwoods route (though it was pretty and cut through many picturesque farms) to get to the interstate and to the airport. I bought some travel tissue packs and Nyquil at the airport, and we arrived in Cleveland without incident (though I noted that my left ear was just EXPLODING during the descent into the Cleveland airport – it didn’t pop until we landed), my dad and stepmom picking us up and driving us to my mom’s house.

We got to bed very late, but I took Nyquil, pounded more fluids, and didn’t set an alarm. I woke up at about 8 the next morning, then rolled over and dozed more, finally getting up at about 9 am on Saturday. I felt pretty stuffed, but I took a very hot shower and steamed out, and I seemed to be draining for the most part, my energy level decent.

After a trip to Panera for lunch (a day-before tradition of mine – a soup and salad at Panera seem to treat me well as last lunch before a race), we got on the road to Toledo. My left ear still seemed to be partially plugged, and I didn’t get it unplugged until halfway through the drive (and even then I wasn’t certain I had fully opened that sinus). I was draining and draining but was feeling like it was productive and I was definitely on the mend and over the worst of the cold. I posited that if I still felt congested in the morning I could steam in a very hot shower to clear my head before the race, if necessary. I kept drinking water, some with Nuun to try to keep my electrolytes balanced.

First stop upon arriving in Toledo: the expo. I felt nervous, detached. I just wanted to get my bib and get on with it. But of course I also needed a quick photo with my bib, and my supportive husband (though I’m dismayed and embarrassed to say I never got a photo with my mom the entire weekend. That is just not okay).

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It was late afternoon by this point, and I had been texting with twitter/Instagram pal Sarah (whom I’d convinced to run that race earlier in the year when she’d been debating possible spring marathons – she lives in Ann Arbor so it was a nice drive in for her) and we planned on meeting for dinner, which gave me just enough time to get settled at the hotel, try to make a race spectating game plan looking at the maps and parking options, and relax for a little bit. I laid out my gear, plugged in various devices to charge, kept hydrating.

Just after 6 pm, we met Sarah, her sweetie, and their darling toddler daughter for dinner at IHOP (another pre-race tradition of mine). We had a lovely time, eating pancakes and talking about running and life in general. It’s always a cool novelty to meet someone in person who you’ve been communicating with online for so long. And Sarah’s little one charmed all three of us to the extreme. I told Sarah my basic race plan and she said she’d be happy to run with me for as long as she could – she’s a much faster marathoner, but her training had been derailed that winter/spring due to the weather, life, and multiple bouts of sickness. We planned to text and find each other before the race – and before each of us gave up our phones to our families when we got in the corrals.

Maybe around 8 pm or a little before, we parted ways to try to get some sleep. I double-checked my gear and decided that I was probably going to be racing in the full singlet the next morning, rather than the crop top. It was predicted to be 39 or 40* at the start. It would get warm decently fast the last hour or two of the race, since the forecast was also calling for it to be very sunny (rain had been predicted earlier in the week but that forecast changed by Thursday). I had throwaway arm warmers (Shannon’s old socks) and a pair of throwaway gloves donated to the cause by my friend Krystina. I flipped through my training log to remind myself of tough workouts conquered, read over a few messages from friends and family, got a few more encouraging wishes from my coach (who was literally on the other side of the world for work), and tucked into some Harry Potter reading before shutting off the light, sleeping fairly well for the night before a race.

Race day

As always, I woke up with my first alarm and shut off the backups. I moved around quietly as Shannon kept snoozing. I made my oatmeal in the hotel microwave (though I noticed hours later as we packed to leave that I never did put nut butter in it. Oops). I made coffee. I sipped on water. I scrolled through various social media feeds, rolled out my hips and glutes and hamstrings. I looked at the weather. It was COLD. A few degrees colder than predicted. I stuck with my plan: singlet, throwaway arm warmers and gloves, bum wrap skirt, calf sleeves. I had nothing for my ears. I had brought a throwaway shirt, but instead wore my aero jacket, and carried sweats in my spike bag to be carried by my crew. It’s always nice to have a crew to carry your spares and backups and layers. I pulled Shannon out of bed for good around 5 am. The coffee and food did their job and got things moving – I had minimal GI disturbance for the race, which was a huge change from my issues at Erie.

At 5:30, we headed down to the lobby to meet my mom. I was so grateful to have her there – and she got up so early on her day off just to watch me run. As we rode the elevator down, I felt adrenaline shooting through my body. I felt as if I were in full-on fight-or-flight mode, a bundle of nerves, waves of nausea roiling in my gut. I hummed to myself to try to settle my gut and distract my mind. I told Shannon I was scared, and he told me it would be okay. I told him this felt like my last chance. He reassured me it wasn’t.

We stepped out into the parking lot and it was freezing. Maybe mid-30s. The car was coated in frost, but as we sat in the car, seat warmer on, waiting for things to thaw and defog so we could go, the shivering I was doing seemed to burn off some of my excess nerves. I felt ever-so-slightly calmer. We drove about 15 minutes to the race site, and took a chance on parking: we bypassed the main lots to try to find parking on a side street to make it easier for Shannon and my mom to drive around the interior of the course to cheer me on in the later miles. It paid off, and we found a parking spot maybe a half-mile from the starting line.

The area around the start was quiet. We passed the elite tent, and saw a couple of port-o-potties sort of sitting by themselves. After a little hesitation (were these just for the elites? Where was everyone?) I went in one since I had the opportunity. I texted Sarah, but she hadn’t left her hotel just yet. Soon enough, the crowd started to gather, though I think a lot of people stayed indoors as long as they could. The air didn’t have a bite to it, but it was quite cold. I wasn’t complaining though – it was pretty much ideal race weather. It was about the same starting temperature as when I ran Chickamauga in November 2015.

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As we stood around and chatted, some movement in the crowd caught my eye. In particular, I saw a tall young woman who looked familiar, but my brain was determined not to believe what I saw: it had to be my friend Caitlin’s exact doppelganger, right?

It wasn’t. It was her. And as I realized this, I also saw Kim and Lori with her. Crying in disbelief, I made my way over to my friends – who had gotten up at 2:30 that morning to drive in from Pittsburgh – and pulled each of them into a grateful hug. Each woman was wearing a different year’s Boston finisher’s jacket.

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Girlfriends are the best.

I bumbled through introducing my friends to my mom, texted with Sarah as we tried to figure out how to find one another in the thickening crowd, and visited the porto one more time. About 6:45, I stripped off my extra layers (so cold!), gave last hugs, and Shannon walked me to my corral. I gave him one last kiss and pushed my way through, lining up around the 3:35 pacer (I couldn’t seem to find the 3:30 pacer to place myself in-between). I chatted with a couple girls around me who were also Oiselle runners, and I strained to see around me to try to find Sarah. I couldn’t find her. I resigned myself to the fact that I would be doing this on my own, which I knew I was prepared to do, but running with a friend is always more fun. I said a few prayers, whispering the Sh’ma to myself, took some deep breaths, tried to loosen up my shoulders and upper body. After the national anthem, after the wheeled start, after a couple extra speeches and pauses, the gun sounded. We were off.

The Race

I was assigned corral B, and while it wasn’t a huge race, it wasn’t miniscule either, and I knew I was in for a bit of a crowded first mile. I was behind the 3:35 grew by a few seconds, but I had figured going into this that I would let the first mile go a bit slowly. I spotted my cheer squad right after the start, and looked to settle into a comfortable rhythm. My toes were frozen and numb. The streets were beaten up and potholed in many places. I was breathing easily and evenly, finding the comfy zone for the early miles.

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In the middle with the white hat and white arm warmer. The woman in the foreground has her hand raised right in front of my shoulder.

I pulled the 3:35 group toward me without really making an outright effort to do so, and soon enough they were in my rearview. Around this time, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked, and it was Sarah! We grinned at each other, happy to find one another. We settled in for the long miles ahead of us.

8:04, 7:59, 7:59

I’m not sure how I’ve managed it in the past, but even my coach has commented on it: my last few marathon race reports have been a little freakish in the level of detail I seem to recall, even in the pain of racing. Maybe it helps that 2 of those 3 in particular were double-loop courses, easily broken into piecemeal, easier to recall particular sections and moments because I traversed them twice. This time, I don’t know what was different (other than being a single loop – but so was Albany 2016), but I don’t recall as many particulars, as many mile-by-mile moments. The only explanation I can come up with is this: focus. I have never been so keyed into a race I think in my life. I could feel fleeting, floating thoughts of doubt and fear trickle in, but I seemed to sweep them away almost as quickly as they emerged. I recalled the Albany Half this year, and how I had left doubt and fear behind me at mile 8 to race hard. I was more ready now than ever. I ignored the doubt of having only run one 20-miler. I ignored the fear around my foot: it felt fine. I shoved aside the doubt of impostor syndrome: I had done this before, and I could do it again. I could do it better.

My crew found me within the first few miles – twice. Sarah commented on the second time that they were professional cheerers. I smiled huge for them both times. It was such an incredible boost to see all of them, screaming and taking pictures. I felt strong and relaxed.

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Sarah, in purple beside me, was a metronome. Also note that we have not only twin shoes, but are perfectly stride-for-stride here.

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7:57, 7:56, 8:03

In talking race plan pre-race with my coach, we decided I could reuse the pacing plan from Erie: I had paces for 3:30, 3:32:30, and 3:35 listed on it, so I could float in those zones and feel good about it, basically striving to run even. This time, I wasn’t afraid to push more towards flat 8:00s, and not fear those splits when they came. 8:06 would be in the 3:32:30 zone. I would be very comfortable with a BQ of that finish time as well, but a 5:00 buffer would be ideal. I locked right in, finding myself flirting with 7:5X quite often, as I had in many of my marathon pace runs. I also tried a more aggressive fueling strategy (borrowed from my friend Krystina): I was racing hard, and I needed to fuel my body. I also have a highly tolerant stomach when it comes to GU. At roughly certain mileage points, I checked my overall time quickly (not dwelling so I wouldn’t panic at how fast I was going, just checking in) and I took a GU at 30 minute intervals , regardless of proximity to a water stop. Sometimes I would be stuck with a sticky-feeling mouth for a mile or so, but the water stops were more frequent than I had expected, and I never went very long without one.

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After the second time I saw my family, I was predicting being able to see them around mile 10, but as we turned onto what was clearer a bike and pedestrian path, I realized that what I had read as a good point to see them (possibly twice) would not be accessible to them. I let this go, and resigned myself to the fact that I would be seeing them sometime after mile 20. Then, I would really need a boost. At one point I saw my watch was reading a 7:45 pace shortly after seeing them, and I forced myself to pull back (though that mile still went a little fast). I checked my overall time when we passed the 10K flag and my watch read about 50:05 or so. Perfect.

7:55, 7:57, 7:53, 8:04

As much of a blur as this race was overall, I do recall that the course was quite beautiful in many places. We wound through some gorgeous neighborhoods with stately homes. Families were out in their yards and on their porches cheering. When the full and half courses split, the full course crossed into a park and we wound through trees and across a field, and I thought of Chickamauga, and the magic of that day – magic I was hoping I was recreating right then. Sarah and I periodically checked in on each other. I wavered a few times, but I reminded myself that this was a long race: if I felt bad, I would feel good again. And I did.

I think my gloves came off around mile 8 or so, and by about mile 11, I worked on pulling off my arm warmers, easily tugging the right one over my Road ID/pace band, and carefully removing my Garmin and holding it while I pulled off the left one (I was afraid to tug it off over my watch for fear I’d hit a button by mistake). Thinking back on how I had almost gone back to the hotel room to get regular arm warmers, I was grateful I had thought better of it. The sun was warming things up quickly. We entered a long stretch of wide road and open sun, though it remained cool. I stayed hyperfocused on the task at hand and not the endless concrete ahead of me. We crossed over the 13.1 point, marked with a flag, and I again checked my overall time on my watch: about 1:45:25ish. Still perfect. Excitement simmered. But I knew things were going to be getting tougher.

8:04, 8:05, 8:00, 8:04

Since I was mostly keeping my watch on my current lap split for easier pacing, I found myself struggling to remember what mile I was on fairly often. Inevitably, I was always one mile sooner than I was thinking. The grind was creeping up on me, but I knew I still had much more to give. We came to a narrow path, and I upped my cadence to cruise down a short, steepish hill, trying to get a little charge to go up the other side. My quads burned on the downhill. We curved around a loop past a big house, and the tiniest bump of a hill slowed me considerably, but I caught back up quickly enough.

Just before the mile 17 mark, I got a nice surprise. We had come around a lake, which I knew was at the upper end of the course, and the last place I expected to see anyone at all, but as we came back down and headed back to the road, approaching another water stop, I saw them. All those Boston jackets that signaled to me that my entire cheer crew was there. Apparently they had CLIMBED A FENCE to get to me at that point. I blew them all a kiss, then focused back on dialing into the correct effort, almost overcorrecting as we came past the water stop and having to adjust as we started a new mile a tiny bit slow.

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Blowing a kiss to my amazing crew

8:00, 8:06, 8:03

I recalled how at Erie, I was struggling mightily and slipping out of the 8:0Xs and into the 8:1Xs and flirting with 8:20 before I had even reached mile 20. I was still strong. We kept rolling. My watch was already way off the markers, but I knew I had some cushion. I was in a much better position than I had been at Erie. I just needed to hang on. I know I checked my watch at the mile 20 flag, and that I was looking for it to read about 2:40-2:41 and change. I don’t remember what it said, but I know it was in that zone.

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As we came around the arcing driveway past the huge house again (this time it was also a relay exchange), Sarah told me to go ahead, that I had this. At mile 21, she let me go, and I pressed on alone.

8:08, 7:58, 8:16, 8:03

Past mile 21 we came past an aid station giving out orange slices. On instinct, I grabbed one and shoved it in my mouth, taking a slurping swallow. I spit out most of it since I knew I didn’t have it in me to chew on anything, but it was still worth it.

My family found me at a turn as I was deep in the pain cave, somehow getting onto that pedestrian path. Everything around me and in my own head was cacophonous, but evidently Shannon screamed “LIZARD MOOOOOOOODE!” at that point.

8:16

A couple miles later, as I begged my pace to stay below 8:30, better than 8:23 (my slowest miles at Erie), Shannon, Kim, Caitlin, and Lori caught me again and ran along side me. It was at this point, Caitlin was able to observe, I was starting to weave. This didn’t strike me as strange at first. I was in so much pain and trying to push without overdoing it – I had to leave some for the last mile. I just had to keep hanging on. I thought perhaps I was cramping, or it was my scoliosis contributing to an awkward right side lean.

8:22

My cheerleaders let me go to race to catch me at the finish, and I kept pressing on, backing off pace a tiny bit to try to preserve myself. I had cushion. Not a ton, but I had some. If I could survive miles 23 and 24, I could come in hard for 25, and harder yet for 26 (point 2). The sun was baking me at this point, and I wondered if I should have worn my crop top instead of full singlet after all. But it still wasn’t hot, per se, and I knew I had to push through worse. I had to fight now.

8:28

But something was not right. I kept tilting and tilting and tilting right. I couldn’t keep a straight line, kept veering off the side. I knew I was tired. I knew I was cramping and that my muscles were reaching their breaking point. But this was a particular feeling I had never experienced. Nothing I did helped me to readjust course and keep straight and upright. I really couldn’t tell you how long I tried to keep up like this, swaying right, but at some point, I sensed the situation was unsafe, I slowed to a walk to try to regain my balance, and I tripped over the side of the bath and collapsed to the ground. According to my watch data, I had run about 24.5 miles before my pace dropped off completely in this moment.

So much of what happened next is a blur. I know that, very quickly, a couple of runners stopped to help me up. One of them, a man named Chris, walked with me for at least a quarter of a mile, possibly a half mile or so. I was staggering and completely unable to stand and walk alone. I held his hand tightly and wrapped my arm around his waist when even that wasn’t enough. A race official on a bike came to check on me, and I repeatedly asked if I was going to get DQ’d for relying on someone to help me walk to get to the finish. Even hobbling along, I was determined to cross the finish line, knowing my BQ was slipping through my fingers like fine sand. Knowing it was over. I apologized to Chris for wrecking his race, told him that I didn’t want to hold him back.

Runners offered me their fuel, water, salt. A woman on the sideline offered me pretzels, which she then fed to me because I needed to hold on with both hands. Sarah caught up with me, and told Chris that she had me, insisting to me that she would stay with me and get me to the finish if I wanted to get there, no matter how long it took. I kept trying to walk, but still, I could not hold myself up. It wasn’t late stage marathon cramping and dehydration (at least, it wasn’t completely that). At one point – I don’t remember when – a young woman asked to squeak past us to finish her race. I remember seeing she was dressed modestly in black and white, limbs covered, wearing a hijab. If I had had the wherewithal, I would have called out, “you go, girl.” I had nothing. When the race official asked if I had any health conditions, it started to dawn on me that this could be related to the head cold. I said aloud that I had been sick, that I had sinus congestion I thought I was basically over, but it may have screwed up my equilibrium.

At last, after what Strava reads as a half-mile of slow, gruesome walking, I stopped. The race official had me sit down along the side, and called for the sag wagon and medical assistance. They had me lay down so that my feet were slightly uphill, toward the course/path. Sarah stayed with me. I slowly reached my hand across my body to hit STOP on my watch.

I cried. My breathing was slow and shaking. I kept wondering about my heart rate and blood pressure. We waited for the sag wagon. Sarah repeatedly helped me lift my head and take sips from a water bottle. I held her hand and cried. I thanked her for staying with me, for being an incredible friend to someone who, in reality, she hardly knew. “We’re sisters in sport,” I remember her saying. I asked if someone had a phone, if someone could call my husband. I never lost consciousness, and I wasn’t delirious, but syllables came slowly, one or two at a time. I told Sarah to check my Road ID, thinking I couldn’t get his phone number out any faster than she could read it off my ID. She had to pull back the pace band I had taped over it, but I was grateful I was wearing it at all. I heard her talking on someone’s phone, reassuring him that I was going to be okay and that I would be taken to a med tent. I murmured to myself and tried to focus on breathing. For a few moments, I wondered if it would be scarier or more of a relief just to pass out right then.

A little while later, the sag wagon had come. They helped me slowly sit up, and once I had my bearings a little in the seated position, they helped me stand. A very large man (I recall thinking of him as Hagrid) had me wrap my arms around him so he could help me into a wheelchair and he pushed me to the van. He and another young woman transported me toward the finish area in the van, still in the wheelchair. I examined my legs, my right leg awkwardly cramped inward, and noted several small cuts on my legs and right arm from the fall I had taken. For a few minutes I thought I might not be able to keep down fluids, and the girl handed me a bag just in case. Thankfully I didn’t end up needing it. I also asked her to call my husband again, and she fully ripped off my pace band (though she gave it back to me) to access the information on my Road ID. They would be waiting for me by the med tent.

By the finish area, they moved me from the van to the back of a golf cart, and I hung on as best I could, with a man holding my arm tightly to keep me on and balanced. The driver of the cart kept shouting at the crowd to move aside so we could get through. I almost wanted to yell at them myself, but couldn’t muster the strength.

We rounded through the football stadium, and as we approached the med tent, I saw my cheering section gathered near it. I sobbed in my mother’s arms. I sobbed in my husband’s arms. He scooped me up and carried me into the med tent and lowered me onto a cot. They took my heart rate and blood pressure – both were normal. I was fine. I laid there for a little while longer while they made sure I was okay (and I made sure I was okay), before helping me to stand and walk somewhat on my own.

Wrapped in a space blanket, I hobbled toward Kim, Caitlin, and Lori. These women. These women who drove all the way out to Toledo long before dawn to watch me race. These women who crammed in a car with my mom and husband to chase me around the course and scream and cheer. These women who stood in front of me with tears in their eyes to match mine. I hugged each one, hard, crying into their shoulders, thanking them for being there, for being amazing friends.

We gathered ourselves up for our journey back to the car, and along the way, bumped into Sarah and her family. I gave her a huge hug, asked her if it was weird if I told her that I loved her. We’re connected now – connected forever. Running a marathon with another person is a powerful, intimate experience. And having someone pick you up and carry you, help you move forward, help you find assistance when you need it, hold your hand and give you water when you are literally on the ground, unable to move? We’re sisters now.

I swallowed my tears to say bye-bye to her little girl, who was already well on her way to claiming her momma’s medal. Before we split up, I managed to have the wherewithal to request a picture of all my runner girls.

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Badass women with hearts of gold.

Once we got back to the car, agreeing to meet back at the hotel, where I would get cleaned up before going to lunch with the Pittsburgh ladies, I dug my phone out of my bag to see an explosion of messages. Good luck wishes, cheers along the way, frantic race tracking, texts, tweets, GroupMe messages, RaceJoy app cheers, Facebook posts… Tears rolled down my cheeks once more. The friends who were tracking me lived and died with every update, and when they heard the bad news, they were right there with me.

We managed to get a little extra late checkout time when we told the front desk I had been in the med tent, but we still had to hustle a bit. I was astounded to discover I had hardly chafed at all, but getting around was still difficult. The shower is still the best place to cry. Shannon helped me to dress, including putting compression on, and we threw our things into bags and got out the door, Shannon doing most of the heavy lifting. Deciding on Applebee’s as a simple lunch option, we girl talked through lunch and I picked at my food. I had ordered chicken tenders and fries because it sounded good, but as usual I didn’t want to eat much once it was in front of me. Shannon actually did a little bit of parent-bargaining-with-a-toddler with me, asking me to eat just one more piece of chicken, and couldn’t I eat that one last bite?

We parted ways by early mid-afternoon, with the girls hitting the road for Pittsburgh, looking sleepy, and Shannon, my mom, and I making our way to Cleveland. I took a few minutes to write a Facebook post to explain what had happened. I cried reading every single comment left by friends and loved ones.

I took over driving the second half as I knew my mom was exhausted, and I was shockingly alert. My brother called along the way, as did my dad, and I filled them in (I had talked to my dad briefly walking back to the car post-race as well; he called again on the drive to check in). Once we arrived home, my step-dad had purchased ice cream I had requested. He had suggested pizza, which initially sounded good, but then didn’t. I knew ice cream would sit well, and was calorie-dense, which I needed.

Before long, we were headed to the airport. Final hugs, a quick security line, a short flight, and a 90 minute drive stood between us and home. When we arrived there at long last, so very late and so tired after a 20-hour day, I saw two huge vases of flowers – one from my in-laws, one from my Athens friends – with cards and treats and so, so much love and support.

Analysis

There’s nothing I could have done to prepare for this. Maybe if I had hydrated even better? Maybe if I had gone ahead and taken that pre-race shower to clear my sinuses more? Maybe if I had taken Sudafed (yeah, probably not a great plan)? My ears were exploding again on the flight home Sunday night post-race, and my sinuses drained for a few more days, even though I felt fine, not sick in the least. There really is no telling what can happen in a marathon, especially when you line up not at 100% health.

The truth is, there is nothing I could have done short of being clairvoyant. All visible signs pointed to giving the race my very best shot. I gave everything I had until I literally could not give anymore. I ran a perfect race for 24 miles. I was suffering, but already imagining digging in at mile 25 and finding those last, deep reserves – the ones that are always there, the ones I have found within myself in the last year more than ever before. I had visualized that finish line so many times. It was just a clock, really, in my imaginings. Now, I can’t see it. The finish never comes.

So how do you finish? You keep going. You thank and love on your supporters and feel completely unworthy of all of their belief and hope and kindness. You remember the feeling of being picked up off the ground by total strangers who were not going to just leave you there. You think of how the woman who ran 21 miles with you and took care of you at mile 25, dedicated her last mile to you.

Marathons are about so much more than finish lines. Each time we go out there, we learn something: about ourselves – our bodies, our minds, our spirits; about our support system; about other runners around us. We’re all in this together. We are never alone out there, even when we feel most alone.

I am not finished. I am resting now – recovering in body, mind, and spirit – but I will return. Running and I are in this for the long-term. I have many, many miles left in these legs and in my soul. And my friends are waiting for me.

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Race Report: Albany Half-Marathon

Lately, it seems, all I hear is Psalm 23.

I raced a half-marathon on March 4. It went amazingly well. One would think I would have written and posted a race report almost immediately. But I haven’t. The truth is, I’m having a hard time finding words. Finding purpose. Finding a point in writing about a race in the usual amount of detail. You see, in the time since that race, I have attended two funerals, spaced apart from each other by about two weeks. This isn’t the first time I have run a race that was followed by loss. In fact, one of those losses came a couple days prior to this latest race, and it weighed on my mind and heart.

The Thursday before the Albany Half, my husband’s maternal grandfather – his last living grandparent – passed away. He was in his nineties; he had long outlived his wife, as well as one of his children, and he was ready to go. But even when you know that the leaving has let that person have the peace they have long been seeking, the current of loss remains for those left behind. I did not know this man well – though the handful of brief interactions I had with him cemented my belief that this was a lovely human – but I felt the loss deeply, given how much I love my husband, his family, his sweet mother who just lost her father. Given how recently I lost my paternal grandmother, who was similarly in her nineties and long ready to go. Given how, at the end of one visit, when he could not get out of bed to see us off, I was reminded of embracing my own maternal grandfather similarly near the end, feeling his ribs through his thin flesh and clothing.

My sweet mother-in-law asked what was convenient for us for traveling up to Chicago for the funeral given the race, even as I insisted that this did not matter. The race was of little consequence. The funeral was scheduled for the following Tuesday, and thus we continued with our plans to run with whatever we had that day.

In the days leading up to the race, I had no plans to truly taper – I was going to race it, but my training plan did not back off much, so I would still have somewhat tired legs. But on Monday night’s run, I was feeling my right IT band a bit more than I’d like. Tuesday morning, a mile or so into the run, it wasn’t loosening up well enough for my taste. I have battled on-and-off ITBS long enough to know the early signs and how cautious I need to be when it begins to flare. I bagged the run, and scheduled a visit with my massage therapist for the next morning. I booked her for thirty minutes to focus on my legs, and she gave me at least 45 minutes, finding my IT band to be all stuck with my vastus medialis and lateralis. I kept stretching and rolling the rest of the week and was cautious and under coach’s instructions: a few easy miles Thursday, and 3 mile shakeout on Friday. I felt okay. I suppose I ended up tapering in the end.

Shannon and I left work Friday after a half-day of work, and hit the road for Albany, leaving the pets alone for 36 hours with extra food and water. We weren’t going to be gone for very long, though we had never left the rabbit alone for more than 24 hours before (she did fine). Partway through the drive, an Athens runner friend and his wife called to say they were having car trouble and asked if we could help them out. They had a couple check lights come on and wanted to leave their car at a dealership in Albany, and thus needed help getting to and from dinner (we had planned on eating together at IHOP, with some others) and getting to their hotel. We had time to check into our own hotel first (a few miles from the race site) and bumped into Chrissy and James just after their shakeout miles. It worked out fine in the end, meeting up at packet pickup (which was quick and painless) and then taking the car to the dealership, which was literally next door to IHOP. We gorged ourselves on pancakes with friends, and got back to the hotel to get to bed at a semi-reasonable hour. I did plenty of stretches, especially for my hips, before bed. I felt fairly confident I had gotten the issues under control, and had a massage scheduled for fairly early the morning after the race.

The 4:30 alarm jarred me awake, and I recalled a dream similar to the one I had had before Chickamauga (in which I didn’t recall the race at all but dreamt I had run a 3:36. Not quite prescient, but only a couple minutes off). In this dream, I was running a workout back in Athens with 13.1 in the middle at HMP and nailed it, though I remembered none of it. I took this as a good sign.

I got to work with my usual morning routine of making oatmeal with nut butter in the room, texting Chrissy at 4:45 when I went downstairs for coffee. We were out the door before 6:00 am, piling into Chrissy and James’ car, with Dustin and Catherine following behind us. James and Shannon were being huge goofballs, and Shannon got James to peel out at a light, briefly forgetting that Catherine was trying to caravan behind us. Oops.

We got parked and situated, though after we were half a mile from the car I realized I had left my water there – it was fine since they had some at the start. It was freezing. The starting temperature was about 38*, and I was shivering in my throwaway long sleeve, which covered my ARR/Fleet Feet racing team singlet, arm warmers, gloves, as well as throwaway earband, Oiselle bum wrap skirt, and calf sleeves. I’d gone mentally back and forth on my outfit the night before, not wanting to overdress for the hard effort, especially when I knew it would be sunny. I had wanted to get throwaway gloves but never managed to, and figured it was so cold I might want to keep them on. I also knew we’d have support from Athens friends on the course and I could probably toss them my gloves, since this was a good pair I wanted to keep.

We hit the portos immediately and I emptied my bladder one last time. I knew I was well hydrated and with it being so brisk, I wasn’t worried about drying out so I restricted my drinking the last hour so I didn’t have to pee again right before the start (or during the race). With about 20 minutes to go, I headed out on my warmup mile, balling my hands into fists, trying to get them warm.I heard the anthem playing as I rounded a street a quarter mile away. Once I got to the start corral, getting warm was no longer an issue with all those bodies around me.

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Shannon and I exchanged good luck kisses, and I wished my running pals luck and ass-kicking powers. I was particularly psyched for Chrissy, who I knew was ready to totally fuck shit up. She had told me she had thrown the explicit sub-1:30 goal out the window, but I also knew she was 100% capable of going for it. She reminded me not to get sucked in with the pack early on as we lined up pretty close to the front (though I tried not to line up TOO close).

The race announcer counted down, and I tried to take deep, relaxing breaths. With little warning, right at 7:00 on the nose, a start cannon boomed, and we were off.

The race

I told myself to relax early on, knowing the first mile or so was slightly uphill, and tried to ignore the urge to get right on pace (or too fast) early. I knew I had a sub-1:40 in me, a goal I had been trying to reach since getting so close in spring 2014, and my workout paces of late had spelled the possibility of something even faster. Whether it was this pressure on myself, or the mental state I had been in that week from my IT band and the loss just two days earlier, the idea of running hard was quickly putting me in a panic. I breathed. I shook my hands out. I focused on my surroundings, the lovely morning, seeing friends out cheering and taking photos. I forced away the memories of my crash-and-burn marathon here just a year ago. My first mile clicked off fast at 7:32 (goal pace to break 1:40 is 7:37). I swallowed fear.

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The two courses – half and full – split from the start, so for the first few miles it was nice and quiet. I found myself with a small amount of company, and noticeably more men than women. The women I did see, I tried to pace off of and motivate myself with. One man in a neon green shirt proved a steady pacer for the first few miles, though a few times I would glance at my watch and see I was going too fast.

7:32, 7:38, 7:35

I started to recognize sights from the previous year doing the full, and tried not to let this intimidate me. My inner critic was loud and boisterous that morning, and I tried to talk over her. I’m a different runner than I was a year ago. I’m much faster, much stronger, much smarter. I have run a BQ since last year. I have proved myself far, far tougher than I was last year. I’m super fit, more fit than I have ever been. My breathing is completely relaxed. Listen to it. Even through this positive self-talk, I felt my heart palpitate and I swallowed little balls of fear. I would be on the heels of the guy in green, and see my pace dipping below 7:30, and despite my effort feeling relaxed, I pulled back on the reins and my stress level rose. What was going on? My mind was also deep inside my right leg, worrying my IT band would blow up on me any moment. For a few miles, my right leg felt like it was filled with lead. It was dead weight, and I wished I could stop and shake it out. What if I can’t do this today? What if I have to quit? What if I fail?

I got a mental boost around mile 4 when, at a water stop, I saw James and Catherine cheering their hearts out. I smiled big, and peeled off my gloves (the earband had come off during mile 2) and tossed them in their direction.

It was during mile 5 that my race could have gone one of two ways. I found myself in a mental hole that felt familiar – one that I felt in the midst of the Albany full just a year before. I doubted my ability to hold this pace. I doubted my right to be on the course, to be going for my goal. I doubted my legs. I doubted my heart and lungs, even as they stayed steady for me.

7:30, 7:44

Then something happened I have never before experienced. At the bottom of the hole, I found a way out. Somehow, I made it so my slowish mile 5 would be the slowest of the day. Somehow, I picked myself up. I kept fighting. I dug inside my mind and body and heart, and recalled how far I had come. The workouts I had crushed, the doubting voices I had beaten into submission, the fight I knew was in me now and growing every second. I focused on my relaxed breathing, trying to mind my tangents (though more on that later), finding runners to pick off as the front-ish pack I was in was growing thinner and more spread out. By mile 8, I had fully turned my race around. I visualized my inner doubter as a physical being, and I told her to leave. I let her shout her doubting words – you can’t do this; you aren’t strong enough; you aren’t fast enough; you don’t have it in you; your IT band is going to start hurting; this is too hard – to the wind, swept away behind me. I imagined her standing on the curb and watching her words fall to the sidewalk – impotent, ineffectual. Her words couldn’t touch me. I imagined enormous wings spreading out behind me and I took flight. No one could stop me but that voice, and I left her in the dust.

7:39, 7:38, 7:30

As the course wound through neighborhoods on the back half, I took this time, this second chance at these miles to enjoy their beauty. A year before, in these miles, I was in immense pain. But now I could soak in the beauty. The turns were many, and I honestly wasn’t sure at times how to work the tangents. The course was coned off to provide directions. At places, this was because only half the main road we traversed was closed to traffic. But on these side streets, I was unsure if these were merely guiding the direction and turns or if I was meant to stay on a particular side of the cone. This probably contributed to the fact that my Garmin reading was well over the distance. Chrissy expressed confusion with the tangents as well, and since she had a lead bike with her (badass), she didn’t want to accidentally cut a cone and be DQ’d as a result.

At one point, rounding a large turn around a lake, I looked up at the trees that arced over the street and tried to memorize how the light looked as it filtered through, Spanish moss ornamenting the branches. I wished in that moment I could have taken a picture.

I kept racing hard. Everything was clicking, and I kept one foot tapping the break. I didn’t want to kick too soon, but running hard felt absolutely delicious. The dead leg feeling in my right leg had gone, though I had creeping numbness up and down it for most of the race. At one point in the last 5K I touched my right leg to see whether my shorts had crept up at all – they hadn’t, it was just that my leg was that numb (an issue I have had for years that sometimes goes away and sometimes reappears, possibly exacerbated or caused by mild scoliosis that crunches my right side and sometimes sets my hips out of place – my massage therapist always checks their alignment). I ignored it and kept running.

7:29, 7:33, 7:29

The course curved onto a familiar turn where, last year, I recalled the 3:40 pacer coming up beside me and passing me, and my despair that day exploded into devastation. But today, I was still racing hard. I still had so much to give. I was trying to hold back for the final mile, but keeping myself in check was getting harder. I picked off a few runners who were beginning to struggle, and the enthusiastic volunteers and course cheerers garnered huge grins from me. I brushed my hand across the shoulder where I had attached the memorial pin for Ashley, the local runner who just last fall was taken too soon by a careless, criminally negligent driver. I dedicated that mile to her. In the next mile, I thought of my grandmother who left this earth last July, the day I raced a half-marathon. I thought of my favorite Hebrew School teacher, who passed in December. I thought of my stepfather’s twin brother, who passed a couple weeks before my grandmother. And I thought of my husband’s grandfather, Tom.

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I felt the strength of all these loved ones in my feet and body and heart. I let them drift in and out of my consciousness as I returned focus to the race at hand. I could no longer keep myself reined in. I was letting loose now.

7:20

I passed the last water stop with just a very quick sip and for the first time, dabbed a bit of the water on myself. I had kept extremely cool during the race, and know in retrospect I could have done without armwarmers, but I was reasonably comfortable. The course curved again, and I had a long rolling straightaway that I recalled cursing the year before. I was relishing it now. I crossed over the railroad tracks (carefully marked with bright spray paint) and struggled to navigate the sharp turn onto sidewalk, under a covered pathway for another sharp turn, and finally onto the last pathway. I knew it was going to be fairly close: my watch had been on the mile markers at the start, but the last 10K I was beeping at the marathon markers for a while (so .1 ahead of the real distance) and in the end, I was beeping even ahead of the marathon markers). I gutted it out.

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7:00

I saw the finish banner up ahead and heard friends yelling for me. I sprinted with all I had, a big, stupid grin on my face when I saw that I would not be letting that clock tick past 1:40, and my chip time would be at least a few seconds better. I had it. I cruised across the line with pure joy and elation and pride. When I knew I had it, looking at the clock, crossing the line, I yelled out in victory. Yes!!!

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final sprint (Garmin read .3): 6:14 pace

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Chip time: 1:39:29 (PR)

My friends found me quickly as I wobbled, struggling with medal and water and heat blanket. I cried. I cried like I always do, whether from disappointment or pride, this time from the latter. I knew I had given a great effort and ran a great race. I also knew, deep down, I had even more to give: had this been my A-race, a 1:38 or even 1:37 may have been in the cards. Rather than feeling disappointment in this, I felt confidence, knowing I had that much more to give for my upcoming marathon.

Once Shannon finished (1:48 and change – very proud of him),  I checked on him before letting him recoup in quiet while I struggled through a sore, tired cooldown mile on the nearby greenway with friends. Chrissy had done what I knew she could: an amazing PR and just over 1:30 (given the difficulty of running the tangents, uncertainty as to what they actually were, if it had been clearer, I know she would have run sub-1:30). She also nailed 3rd woman overall. When we came back, results for top 40 were posted, and I saw my name at the very bottom of this list. At first it seemed I was 4th in my age group, but later on it turned out I had managed 3rd! I won a half-zip pullover and a beer cup. The guy in the green shirt also snagged an AG award, and we thanked each other for the pacing push and congratulated one another on the race. We also all grabbed several more Snickers bars from a nearby tent.

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Chrissy and me – double teammates!
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Just a few of the ARR age group award recipients! Dustin, Chrissy, me, and John

We waited for several other friends to finish, including Justin, who came within seconds of breaking 3 hours (though again with the course tangents question, we mentally gave him credit for breaking 3 hours). He ran an extraordinary race and watching him finish and seeing the emotion overtake him was fantastic to witness.

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AMAZING support team of friends: James, George, and Catherine – they all had their significant others racing, and cheered hard and supported ALL of us.

When we started to get too chilled, we hobbled back to the car and headed to the hotel, parting ways to get cleaned up and celebrate with the various food we were craving (Shannon and I wanted pizza from Mellow Mushroom next door; Chrissy wanted fries from Chick-fil-A).

The next 48 hours were filled with driving. We drove back to Athens. We unpacked, repacked. I got a long, much needed post-race massage with my usual person Sunday morning. We got the pets set up for the sitter (I had texted her when I knew this was about to happen, and fortunately she was available even though it was spring break). We hit the road with Shannon’s parents around 4:30 PM and got nearly to the Kentucky border before calling it a night. I ran a sore and slow but decent feeling 5 mile recovery run on a hotel treadmill (it was raining and I didn’t have spare shoes) Monday morning. We drove on into Chicago. Tuesday morning, I ran 8 sweaty miles on that hotel treadmill. And that morning we said goodbye, not for the first time lately, nor the last. During the service, we recited Psalm 23. Just as we had for my grandmother in July. I cracked.

The entire week was about recovery–listening to my body, listening to my heart. I pushed myself through a stressful, short work week (some shit had hit the fan during my absence). When I knew an early Thursday morning 10 miler was impossible that week (we had gotten back to Athens after 11 pm Wednesday night), I leaned on my amazing running girlfriends for 10 great miles in the evening. I managed to survive 20 miles in fairly decent form that Saturday, in no small part thanks to friends like Chrissy.

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Catherine and Chrissy joined me for the first 5 of my Thursday 10-miler, and Maricia stuck with me the whole way! Love these girls.
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Smiling and goofing – just another mile or two to go in our 20-miler at this point.

I was starting to feel okay again. That’s when it always gets you, isn’t it? Monday morning, I had 8 recovery miles to run. And I felt like hot garbage. There is no other way to describe it. Dead, shitty feeling legs. I felt a little pull in the bottom of my left foot, but didn’t think much of it in the wake of the way my whole body and mind felt. I quit at 3 miles, since it felt worthless. I was overdue for a bad run, I figured, especially given how – though I had felt sore and tired, sure – the recovery week post-race had gone amazingly okay. It had been an intense couple of weeks. But it wasn’t over yet.

That evening, Shannon and I spent a quiet evening at home; we had planned to skip the Monday night run, hence running in the morning, to celebrate his birthday peacefully and by ourselves. A text message from my dad shattered the peace. My uncle, one of his elder brothers, was entering hospice. He had been diagnosed with stage 3b gastric cancer just last summer, and his name had been in my prayers constantly, shared at synagogue during the prayer for healing. At my grandmother’s funeral, I was shaken by his noticeably gaunt appearance, but he seemed at peace with this likely fate: he was living life as he always had –with joy, with family, to the fullest.

Tuesday morning I had 10 miles with 10 x quarter mile hill repeats on tap. I made it a couple miles before the tightness in my left foot – in a classic plantar fasciitis position, between ball of foot and heel (though heel itself felt fine, including upon waking) reared up enough to give me pause, I turned back, and walked in the last tenth, feeling the pulling inch towards pain that made me wince. I quickly scheduled an appointment with my massage therapist for the next morning. An hour before, she cancelled; she had fallen and hurt her hand.

That night, my dad called to say his brother would likely pass in the next ten days. The sound of his voice broke my heart.

My foot was in no pain in daily activities, even when first waking up, or standing from being still for a long time, and in contact with my coach, I tried to run on Thursday, opting for treadmill in case I needed to bail out, with a goal of 3-4 easy miles to test things out. A mile and a half in, the tightness returned and pulled towards pain. I tried the elliptical, then the bike. Mark told me to get off the bike and rest. I called the local orthopedic clinic, where I couldn’t get in that week, and they recommended their urgent care clinic for faster service instead. I decided to try that Friday morning, booking a backup appointment at another PT clinic in Athens for the following Monday afternoon. I also found an alternate massage therapist, and booked an appointment for Saturday afternoon.

But plans being what they are – life being what it is, this month being what it was – I cancelled most of this. We had a friend over for dinner Thursday evening – he’s been struggling lately, too, and I wanted to feed him a nice meal and hang out and chat, because there is nothing more healing than being fed (and, honestly, feeding others is healing for me too), or at least so I have always found to be the case (perhaps my Jewish background). While he was over that night, my father texted my brother and me again. My uncle had passed.

I called my dad. His broken heart crackled over the distance of the phone. I would have given anything to be with him in that moment. To bring him to Athens, to feed him, too. His breathing ragged, he told me the plans he knew of – that the funeral would be either Sunday or Monday. Right before I had called him I had received an email from my cousin, the daughter of this uncle, saying it would be Sunday, and I passed along this information. Within minutes, I had booked a hotel, called my brother and his wife to make plans. He would drive up from where he is in training right now in Oklahoma, and his wife would stay there with the boys (it would be too much to cart the little ones all that way). We both were facing about nine hour drives, drives we knew we could do so that we could all be together. “I don’t have anything to wear. I don’t have a suit with me,” my brother lamented. My father-in-law would lend us a tie to bring to him. It would be okay. Our presence was more important. Our family being together – as many of us as could be there – was what mattered.

You give what you can, when you can, as often as you can.

The next morning, Friday, I went to the urgent care clinic and received a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis – caught early. They gave me a script for PT, which I gladly took. I was told not to run through Sunday, and try to run on Monday if doing well. I was given additional stretches and exercises to do. I was told to ice and take ibuprofen twice a day (if I could tolerate it, which fortunately I can), even if my foot didn’t hurt.

Shannon and I traversed familiar interstates – the drive to St. Louis was two-thirds the same as our recent drive to and from Chicago – and arrived at my aunt’s home Saturday evening. So much of our family was there, and the extra strands of our extended support systems buttressed everything leading up to the funeral service, and when shiva began. In-laws of my cousins (the children of my uncle) lifted them up, gave of themselves, helped keep watch of my uncle’s grandchildren.

I felt the loss of running acutely. My ritual, my healing salve, my outlet was unavailable to me. I diligently performed my stretches and exercises. I pushed away the loss of running, and felt the other loss – the real loss – wash over me. I hoped that my foot would heal enough, would be okay enough to allow me to run the marathon in April. If for no other reason, then to run those miles for my uncle. With his spirit in my heart and his strength in my feet. When words fail me, I know running is there – and I honor those whose strength sustains me through it.

As we stood in the chilly wind at the burial service, I could hardly eke out the words. Psalm 23. The wind billowed at points when his wife, his children shared their words. Every time they had to stop, when the words stuck in their throats, I wanted to run to them. But I knew they were not alone as they stood there, struggling to say those words.

I’m climbing back into my mileage. I ran two hours this past Saturday with minimal issue. I ran pain-free on Monday, and had an amazing workout on Tuesday, including 4x mile at 10K pace with minimal foot tightness. I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ll see my PT and a massage therapist once a week through the marathon. I will run with what I have. I will remember where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.

I will run for all those I have lost. For the peace they now have. For the loves ones they left behind, whose grace and strength astounds me, exemplifying the souls who left those bodies, now touching each of us.

I run what I can, when I can, with everything I have to offer then. And sometimes, a little more than I thought.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters.

He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff – they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou has anointed my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

 

 

The long road

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Through the dust motes of this neglected blog – how has it been since Erie since I last wrote? – the just-finished year already seems very distant. A lot happened last year, and as I’m certain I am not the first to write, a lot about 2016 was…pretty terrible. It’s all been written and said to death (…sorry) at this point, and this is my running (and writing) blog, so I’ll try to keep my eye there, but some outside things can’t be ignored. Because running does not exist in a vacuum. It never could.

I ran two marathons in 2016, along with two halfs, and a smattering of other distances. But since running does not exist in a vacuum, it also cannot be confined to our rules of what makes a year. From November 2015 to September 2016, I raced three full marathons. I never thought in my life that I would do that. Sure, maybe run the 26.2 distance that many times in 12 months, but not race it that many times so close together. In those races, I set two big PRs, which sandwiched one crushing disappointment (which, truthfully, in the end wasn’t a terrible race time, though it felt it for every agonizing step of the last eight miles).

In July, I took a crack at my long-standing half-marathon PR (1:40:40) and didn’t quite get there, but got closer than I have in a while (just over 1:41 by gun time, but given the low-key nature of the race led me to miss the “start” command, My watch said just under 1:41 of actually racing). In October, I was really stupid and tried to race out of the gate at AthHalf to attempt sub-1:40 with a group of gals, including one who was doing it as a marathon pace run and led the charge; this was a mere four weeks post-Erie. I pulled the plug on the racing part three miles in and it was an absolute grind to the finish. I hated life. I hated running. I contemplated dropping out. I got a boost from seeing my friend Maricia about 8ish miles in (she was hurting, too, but went out to PR anyway, because she’s a badass), and in the last mile, stopped to try to help a girl who was cramping so hard she was bent over double and sobbing. She told me to go on, and I told her no. I ran alongside her for a bit, encouraging her to breath, telling her she could do this. I lost her a half mile later, I think to more cramps. I hope she finished her race with her head held high. We all have those days. I certainly was.

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Post-Lumpkin hill repeats.

I hoped to wrap up the year with a couple of short, fast efforts: I trained on hills and returned to the group track workouts to prep for the Give Thanks 8K on Thanksgiving, and later the Santa Stroll 8K in mid-December. A couple days before Thanksgiving, I had a sore throat coming on, and while I didn’t race all out at Give Thanks, I raced hard enough to bring a bad infection into my lungs and was out of running for 9 days trying to kick it. This of course also set me back on Santa Stroll, which felt great for a mile or so before a long mid-race slog, and a hard and fast finish.

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Dustin the turkey pushing me to the finish. Full on pain face. I had a cough attack after.
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The best running buddy a girl could ask for.

In between those 8Ks, despite still getting over the vestiges of the cough (which went on for weeks, as coughs have the tendency to do for me), I got in a great visit with friends in Washington, D.C., which included walking my legs off, and some running on the National Mall.

On New Year’s Eve in Ohio, I intended to race the Great New Year’s Eve race (5K) with Keeley, and though we drove the 30 minutes there, everything inside of me screamed NO and I pulled the plug at the sight of freezing rain, not wanting to mess with my fragile immune system right before marathon training. I was grumpy and frustrated at my decision, though it proved prescient: that evening, I came down with a head cold (which I shook in a few days with rest and fluids, thankfully). Getting sick five times in one calendar year is strange for me, though thankfully almost none of it came during marathon training (aside from that short cough at the end of the Albany taper). I’m hoping it’s out of my system now, and of course now that the holidays are over, I’m back to eating and sleeping better.

It seems 2016 will be remembered by many as a year marked by loss. And for me and those around me, this was definitely the case. Too many of my friends lost parents last year. My paternal grandmother passed in July at nearly 91 – it’s a hard loss, but I also know she lived an amazing life, and that she was ready to go. Harder to swallow is the loss of my stepdad’s twin brother, who was far too young, and far too sweet to leave this earth already.

But wonderful things happened, too: friends and family got married; friends had or are having babies – joys for 2017; my second nephew was born, and shortly thereafter, my brother and his family and their now two little boys moved to the east coast after years of living out west.

I didn’t write enough. I didn’t sit and reflect enough. I didn’t stay in the moment enough. Every day, every week, every month was about looking ahead to the next – about getting to that next day of work, the next weekend, the next vacation, the next travel opportunity, the next marathon – the next BQ attempt. But it shouldn’t be just about getting to the next.

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Some of the awesome and hilarious running pals that made 2016 a good year after all.

I need to savor the journey. Enjoy every moment of joy or agony, elation or suffering. I need to learn and grow, grieve and feel, push and move on. I need to write more, reflect more, listen more. I need to stop procrastinating, especially on things I know ultimately bring me joy, including writing in my training journal – not just scrambling to catch up every weekend, but writing in it each night. To write for myself, the non-running things, too. Not just invest in other writing activities I’ve accumulated lately – did I mention I joined the Athens Road Runners board of directors and am helping on communications and I’m nerdily thrilled about it? – but also write creatively, for me, for my future, for the career I keep saying that I want.

Running and writing have long been intertwined for me, and so much about them is so similar, so related. Starting up again after a break is difficult. Pacing is a challenge. When you find your stride, it’s a joy. Some days it feel amazing and effortless; other days it feels like a steaming pile of garbage. On reflection, it almost always is better than you thought it was initially.

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I’ll always remember this day, and how – while it wasn’t enough to get into Boston 2017 – I gave every last bit of what I had that day, and no one can take that victory (or my first BQ) away from me.

I need to get back to my roots, to what I love. So expect to see me around here a bit more, even just for a few brief words here and there. I want to run, to write, to live with intention. I want to give my very best to every word, to every stride, to every day. I want to set aside the doubt – to acknowledge it and work through the fear. To recognize what I cannot control, and find ways to make it work the best I can anyway. To strive. To believe. To keep trying and dreaming and working and playing. This training cycle – which began on Monday, January 2 – I will work and savor each day through April 23, when I will give everything I have at the Glass City Marathon to shatter a BQ.

Wheels up, 2017. I’m ready for you.

 

Race Report: Snickers Albany Marathon

Have you ever seen the sand mandalas made by Buddhist monks? Those intricate, colorful, geometric works of art, created so methodically over days or weeks. The process is as painstaking as it is lyrical. The beauty appears long before the pattern’s full breadth emerges. It’s the process, the ritual, the careful consideration of every breath and movement.

And then, one day, when it is completed, it is dismantled. Stirred up, poured away into nothingness. In moments, that which took so long to create is subsequently destroyed.

The marathon is like that. The marathon is preparation. It is careful, drawn out planning and ritual and routine. It is an agony and an ecstasy over weeks or months of training. And it is all for one day. One moment. A handful of small hours where the canvas can be fully seen. Where the beautiful destruction occurs. A dismantling of all that careful work – whether in the form of a successful, miraculous, magical race with perfect (or near perfect) execution; or a crumbling, a pure-grit, pure-guts experience that can never really be put into words, especially to those who have never experienced it.

Within hours, days, weeks, the memories fade. The sharpness of the pain recedes. It dulls. Did it really happen? Was I really hurting that much? Couldn’t I have run a little faster? 

Did I really give it my all?

So, friends, I am here to tell you that I did. I gave everything I had that day.

Pre-race

A few things coalesced that may or may not have led to the crumbling, the destruction. In the end, I think it was just…one of those days. A day that the pieces didn’t click. A day that my legs just weren’t with me; were not in sync with my brain, or those months of training. But perhaps my mind was off kilter from a few of these other things.

First, the week before the race, in Vegas visiting my brother, his wonderful wife, and their darling son – our sweet nephew – I got sick. It wasn’t a bad cold. I had a cough, but my energy was good. It was productive and didn’t sound good, but I slept well and hydrated above and beyond. I made the decision, in consultation with my coach and my gut, to skip my last long run in favor of letting my body rest and try to kick the bug. By Tuesday, I was back on track with my taper week runs: 7 miles that evening with 2 at marathon pace (nailed), and Thursday I ran 3 miles on the treadmill with 5x striders. That run didn’t feel as amazing, but didn’t feel bad either. Just felt…like the taper. I had some aches and tightnesses, but wrote them off to the taper. Perhaps the body wracking cough (that had dried out but was still present) was wearing out my muscles a bit. I could sometimes feel it in my hip flexors. But then again, the taper does strange things to the mind.

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Last run, one of the last of many rolls.

But I slept. I hydrated. I ate well. Very, very well. We left work early on Friday afternoon and drove the 3.5 hours down to Albany, a sleepy southern town, and cozied up in our enormous king sweet at the host hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, nestled by the river and directly across the street from a statue of Albany’s native son, Ray Charles. Shannon and I soaked up the river’s presence; we still miss Pittsburgh, and the running water so close by gave us a jolt of our old home on a beautiful, early spring weekend.

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Albany is also the birthplace of Ray Charles, and this statue was just across from our hotel and by the river. The sidewalk looked like piano keys, and a speaker played his music continually.

We went to iHOP and got treated by the manager to extra pancakes (for no other reason that that he knew we were there for the race) – I stuck to my usual pre-race meal that has yet to let me down. I never felt underfueled, or like I was nutritionally bonking; that wasn’t the issue.

Race morning dawned clear and cool, but with no wind or bite. 41* and calm. I stepped outside in a hoodie and sweatpants and sandals, feeling the air. I changed race outfits three times; the third time was when I discovered I had grabbed the wrong running skirt: I had mistakenly packed the one with the torn inseam (which I got chafing from when I had no choice but to run the Michelob ULTRA half-marathon in it back in October). I panicked. But I swallowed it – I switched back into my crop singlet and into the capris I had packed.

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Sparkly nails, pace band, stuff laid out. Night before ritual.

I had my standard breakfast and one that had worked well in training for sustained energy: 2/3 cup oats with some brown sugar, cooked in water, and a banana with peanut butter.

Chrissy came upstairs and asked how I was feeling and told me not to be nervous, not to pressure myself; that I had done the work and this was my moment and I should enjoy it. I grinned. Her enthusiasm was infectious. But the nerves lingered. My mental game was off – sickness, wardrobe malfunction… Some things were clicking and others were not.

We went downstairs, but I ran back up one more time to grab my arm warmers (another mistake – they were not needed). I got a photo with a lovely teammate, Regina, and we wished each other well, bubbling with pre-race excitement and nerves.

regina

In the weeks leading up to the race and at packet pickup the day before, I kept running into the 3:35 pacer, who used to live and coach in Athens. Chrissy swore by his pacing abilities – said he was a metronome (he was: he paced to a perfect 3:35:00 finish). He couldn’t get my name right, but that’s okay. I showed him my pacing plan when we found him again outside the expo the day before, and he said his would be pretty much that at least through mile 12; when I was supposed to pick it up, he would need to stay conservative. I after all was targeting a 3:32:30 – a time that would very likely get me *into* Boston (maybe. possibly). He had to run  3:35 and let his runners decide their fates. I told him I’d line up nearby for sure, and perhaps I’d stick with through mile 12 if our paces did indeed match. Even 12 miles of company is better than none.

We hustled out to the start line and I took my pre-race Gu and a final sip of water. My watch and phone had unsynced again so I had to re-pair the bluetooth, trying to do this quickly so I could start the LiveTrack and put my phone away for good. Chrissy, Krystina, and James had finished their warm up. I got hugs and fist-bumps, a far-off wave from James as I had already lined up. Shannon and I kissed. Our ritual; our good luck charm, always.

I scooted up close to the 3:35 group, got a wave from the pacer. “You ready?” I nodded. I laughed inwardly at his running skirt and red and white polka dotted compression socks. Eye catching; good for pacing.

Few announcements besides, “Marathoners turn right, half-marathoners turn left.” Over and over. No anthem. No warning.

BOOM. The cannon fired, and we began to move.

The race

Even with the nearly immediate split, things were still slow going for the first quarter mile or so. I just tried not to trip, and focused on my breathing and relaxing into the race, knowing I would find my pace soon enough. I was to run 8:20s for the first two miles, 8:15s through mile 5, then click into 8:10s through mile 12. One mile at a time.

We turned right and crossed the bridge (flat) over the river and made another right onto the Albany State University campus. It was foggy and cool. But I could tell I would be peeling off my throwaway gloves and earband within a few miles. My exposed core felt fine even in the cool air. I should have started chillier, but it was still okay. Even though I was in fleece lined capris instead of the breezy skirt I had planned, I was mostly fine.

I hung off the back of the pace group and searched for the pace. I was going a few seconds fast but felt okay, trying to relax more and save everything I had for later. But even though it didn’t feel hard – it still felt relatively easy – I noted inwardly (quiet, brain) that it didn’t feel as effortless and crawling as the first miles of Chickamauga, where I was hitting the brakes and coasting and gliding and savoring it all those first couple miles. I was searching and wandering and looking for it. You’ll relax into it. It’ll click in. Sometimes it takes a good few miles to find that happy place.

When that first mile clicked off too fast, I consciously backed off, knowing I really did want to pace this right. I let the pace group go.

I let the pace group go.

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The photographers almost exclusively caught me on downbeats. Disregard the zombie face.

We wound about the campus, and eventually ended up on a main road I recalled driving in on, and back towards the bridge and across it, soon joining back up with the half-course, with most of the half runners long gone, some walkers remaining for us to pass. We passed the second water stop, around mile 4, and as I tossed my cup, I realized I hadn’t taken a gel as planned. I shrugged this off; my stomach was still pretty full from breakfast, and mile 6 seemed like a better idea. I peeled off the gloves (and slid my hands out of the thumbholes of the arm warmers), and within a mile, the earband followed.

8:13, 8:17, 8:14, 8:10

The pace group was still within visual reach and maybe 20 seconds ahead of me. I fantasized about the later miles when I would reel them in and then pass them, waving at the pacer and saying goodbye for the rest of the race. Sayonara.

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But it was a struggle. Chickamauga felt almost effortless for a large portion of the race. This one was all focus. If my mind drifted for a second, so did my pace. It didn’t hurt and didn’t feel hard per se, not yet, but something just wasn’t sliding into place.

Perhaps it was a psych-out, but I think all marathoners know the feeling that can creep in as early as those first few miles. Today is not my day.

I focused. I redirected my thinking. I thought about my posture, corrected my arm carriage. I focused on my breathing and how it fit with my cadence; the fact that it was still very controlled. I tried to let go of the fact that the pace group was still drawing farther off. I reassured myself that they were still well within striking distance, and strike I would. Run your race. Be Desi. Be patient. Stick to the plan.

I took a gel at mile 6 and chased it at a water station. The volunteers were fabulous – I called out for water each time and they were all there for me, water vs. gatorade, and held the cups well for an easy grab. Pinch, pour, pinch, pour, toss.

The courses separated again, and the marathon entered a long, lonely stretch. So much of the course was exposed, and there was not a cloud in the sky. In truth it was a beautiful day. But the sun is merciless to the marathoner. I wished I had contacts and could run in good running sunglasses; I couldn’t pull down the brim of my hat low enough; that low, early spring, morning sun. The angle of it – right in my eyes.

8:12, 8:10, 8:09, 8:06

I was still running strong. My form was good. My breathing was great. I was fueled. But it was work. I kept my mind engaged. I saw the pacer dart into a port-o-potty, having passed off the sign briefly, and dart back out and catch up. I half-chuckled. I took my second gel around 9.5, before the mile 10 water station.

The work continued, but I felt for a bit like whenever I accidentally sped up, over-correcting a slowdown, my legs felt better. Patience, then. Your legs want to run fast. Just a couple more miles of this and you can start to let them go. Then you’ll feel in that groove. Around mile 11, I thought I had found it, and I was floating for a little while. See? It just took until now. Sometimes that happens. Now relax and enjoy. You’ll catch them. Keep running your race. You are executing. You are doing it. It’s supposed to be hard.

But the feeling quickly passed. The sun was still beating. We wound through some lovely neighborhoods peppered with stately southern homes, but shade was brief and intermittent. A few hills rolled in and out; nothing terribly significant, especially to an Athens runner, a former Pittsburgh runner.

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I recall crossing the 10-mile mat; I didn’t check my overall time, instead saying, “hello friends” and smiling inwardly, knowing things were okay, even if I wasn’t feeling as amazing as I had hoped I would at this point.  I took a gel at 13. When I crossed the half-split, I checked: 1:47:39, just 10 seconds slow of intended split. I’m okay. I’m doing this. 

8:11, 8:08, 8:10, 8:07, 8:07

Mile 13 was the pace turning point – it was when I was to drop 8:05s for a few miles, then throw down an 8:04 mile 16, before settling into 8:00 for the long haul. I was hitting it, or nearly, but as I approached mile 16, I thought to myself, Maybe I should just shoot for 8:00-8:05 to the end. Maybe I can close hard if I save myself a bit more like that. I’m not feeling this. It just isn’t right. At the mile 16 water station, I took two cups (expecting from examining course maps that there was a water station break until 19; this ended up not being the case), chasing down a gel. I sipped from both and dumped the remains of both over my head.

8:03, 8:10, 8:06, 8:06

I saw the pace group less and less as the course curved and I lost ground to them. They were pacing more aggressively than I was for the first half, and by the time I was to speed up to catch them… well…

The first time I saw my friends, who had finished the half, was around 18.6 (they tell me). I saw them up ahead, and they lifted me up. I smiled briefly, and then I gritted my teeth and told myself to fight. I could still do this. I felt my turnover pick up. Chrissy and James and Shannon were screaming for me. I rounded a curve up a little hill and I could still hear them yelling my name.

But just as fast as that feeling of strength and love washed over me, it slipped through my fingers. My pace plummeted and I felt like that lift had sapped a little extra from me – more than I could spare. Somewhere around here or there, I took another gel.

How do you explain the wall? How do you explain the day where things fall apart, where you just can’t hold it together? How do you put into words, it just wasn’t my day? Talking to a co-worker this week, I told her, “The wheels just fell off.” And she asked me, “What does that feel like?” I opened my mouth, and all the words I could not find stuck in my throat.

As Shannon put it to me, It’s where mind over matter…no longer matters.

I slowed down during the last 10K, especially miles 22 to 24, of Chickamauga. But looking back now with this perspective, that wasn’t a blow-up. The wheels didn’t fully come off. They wobbled. I wobbled. I reached for them and held them with the edge of my everything. But I held it together and brought it back – not completely, but enough. I was able to grip hard enough to steady the wobble, and to teeter-totter my way to finish.

But this. This was a slow implosion. This was a melting away of strength. This was lead and sand and jelly filling my legs. This was despair in my heart. This was my mind and heart screaming at my legs to run. Run. Go. Fight. You can do this. You trained for this. What about that crazy interval-filled 18 miler? What about that pace-hungry 20-miler where I could barely contain my speed? What about all those tempo runs? 

8:21, 8:24, 8:44 (2:44:14 split for 20 miles, 2 minutes off pace)

Krystina and Chris (and his kids – I was too delirious, though) leap frogged with the other group so I saw loving faces quite nearly every mile through the end. I communicated to them, not my day, but they never abandoned me. They kept cheering, kept encouraging. I was going to finish no matter what. And I was not going to walk.

Every time I saw them, every time I saw my husband, I wondered if I should just cry. I wondered if I should go up to them and get high fives and hugs and kisses. If I should walk for a moment and cry and tell them I loved them and today wasn’t the day I was going to BQ, but that I would still finish. But I knew that, too, was more than I had to give. Everything I had, I channeled into forward motion. I forced my eyes up and forward when I caught sight of vomit on the sidewalk, and wondered about my own gut. I reminded myself around 22 that I needed another gel.

Somewhere around mile 22, the 3:40 pacer passed me. A cry erupted from my throat in expletive form. I tried again to up my pace. Just keep up with him. You probably still won’t PR since he likely started behind you, but maybe you could squeak in near 3:40. But I couldn’t hold on. My legs refused.

The miles ticked by in agony. Miles before, I peeled off my right arm warmer, and somewhere in the last 10K, I worked to move my pace band and watch to the other wrist so I could peel off the other, securing both to my fuel belt. Sun filled my eyes. I took at least one gatorade cup in the last 10K. I was taking many double cups and dumping water full on my head and down my back. Just keep running. Just keep moving forward.

Please, just a little faster. Then we’ll be done sooner, if nothing else. Nothing. No response. At one point, my pace readout was showing 11:xx and I though to myself, They’ll think I walked. I’m not really running this slowly. And I’m not walking. I will not walk.

8:56, 9:13, 9:25, 9:38, 9:55

My watch clicked my 25, and what seemed like ages later, I crossed the mile 25 marker. I tried to push. You can do anything for a mile. I picked up briefly, ready to gut it out to a gritty finish, but my legs once more deflated, gave up on me, stopped responding. I wanted so badly to walk. I remembered Air Force, my anger at myself for walking even in the final mile. I wouldn’t do it. Keep going. I negotiated. I thought of how many laps of a track I had left. How little that could seem – and yet here and now, felt enormous. I felt like I hadn’t seen my husband or friends in ages. I felt like the finish was never coming. I kept my death march. The course narrowed into a chute and turned past a train station and into it, throwing in a 90-degree turn that made everything inside me scream.

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But mercifully, the course curved and went down, and finally, on a narrow path and chute, there was the banner. Everything you have. Right now. There was a woman in pink ahead of me with whom I had been jockeying for miles, who was also heavily suffering and had been walking on and off. We were both sprinting, silently pushing each other, driving each other to the line and across it. I don’t think I caught her in the end, but it was what I needed. I flew across the line and nearly collapsed.

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9:06; 7:37 pace final sprint

Chip time: 3:43:19 (8:32 average)

Post-race

Volunteers swarmed, but all I saw was Shannon. I gasped and stumbled and landed in his arms. I don’t really recall how a medal wound up around my neck, but Shannon said it happened right away. I was wrapped in a thermal sheet. He walked me to food and water and gatorade. A sob ripped from my throat. At first, it wasn’t even despair. Not yet. It was the last vestige of any strength. A primordial scream. A barbaric yawp. I sipped at the gatorade. He offered be the bagel and half banana he grabbed. Oranges, I breathed, and he walked me there and I devoured the orange third.

He walked me around, and the physical pain finally released the other pain. The one I still feel pounding at my chest. The one that has been simmering in my guts since the race first began to spiral downward. The failure. 

I couldn’t do it. He walked me around, up and down along the water. I asked where everyone was, and he said they were all cheering near the finish, but were probably giving us (me) space. The physical pain would overwhelm me for a few minutes, and I’d breathe, and we’d walk, and I’d almost laugh at the absurdity of it all. Not many things are as absurd as the voluntary pain of  a marathon. But then a fresh wave would hit. The crushing disappointment. I distracted myself by asking about the joys of their races.

Maybe fifteen or so minutes of walking later, and we found our crew again. Shannon got me to a chair, and they gathered around me, and told me I was amazing. As I wept into my palms, they told me that they loved me; that I was not a failure; that I did a great thing; that I would be back. I asked them about their races. All the pride and love lifted me up.

That’s the beauty of the marathon. It isn’t just your sand mandala. It’s the patterns of your friends and fellow runners. It’s the geometry of their strength lifting up yours. It’s the camaraderie and love and power of a collective that is so much greater than one runner, one race, one day. We draw the race together, we wipe the slate clean together. We start again. All that beauty is in us. It’s part of us. It’s infused in us. We wipe it clean, but it never leaves us. It’s the well we draw from. The power source.

It’s the reason we ended up in Pittsburgh, and then Athens. It’s the wonderful, amazing people who have taught us so much already, and will continue to teach us more. It’s one marathon of many.

I’m not done yet. I’m cleaning the slate, rebuilding my tools and pieces. I’m resting and living and loving. But I’ll be back soon. The marathon beat me up last Saturday, but it didn’t beat me.

Something bigger is coming. Watch this space.

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For those looking for a more analytical glance, here is a screenshot of my Garmin Connect elevation:

SAM garmin elev
338 ft elevation gain

Here is Strava:

SAM strava elev
238 ft elevation gain

The course is indeed flat and fast. There were some lovely parts, many of which I could not enjoy because I was having a bad day and blowing up, so please take my impressions there with that grain of salt. Note, though, that the course is largely exposed, so if you get a sunny day, that could be a factor. I’ve definitely overheated a lot worse in marathons before, and I don’t think it was really the source of my downfall, but it did get warm. And I got an early spring tan out of this race. Please feel free to reach out to me if you want more information about the race, which was incredibly well-run and organized. The half is also a well-timed tune-up for spring marathons, including Boston.

 

 

A very human beast

Beast.

It’s a word runners use quite a bit. That was a beast of a workout. Hang on – entering beast mode. I have a beast of a post-workout appetite right now!

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Runner at the annual Cook’s Holiday lunch at UGA? Look out.

Perhaps most frequently, the term is used as a compliment to our fellow runners. Perhaps the highest compliment we can give. Beast!

I’ve got a really wonderful core group of running pals here in Athens. The range of abilities and speeds is great, and the encouragement and camaraderie is unending. We push each other, we buck each other up, we support each other. We fist bump before and after every run. And, frequently, we call each other beasts.

When in the thick of marathon training, trading workout war stories with pals, planning out long runs, seeing who is up for some early weekday morning miles, as the paces increase, as the miles stack, it comes around more. You’re a beast!

In some ways, I’ve felt the beast mode pretty acutely. Workouts have been going amazingly well. I got back to training the week of Christmas, and got through the thick of 10-day travel while not missing a mile. While in Michigan with my Grandmom and mom, I ran 15 miles with 8 of the later miles at race pace. I blanched when I first saw the workout on my schedule – such a tough first long run?! Was my coach nuts?? I did the first six with Shannon, ran inside to change tops and use the bathroom (it was fairly cold out so a full top change was actually pretty clutch and kept me from getting clammy/cold), then headed out on a 9 mile loop I had mapped in the sleepy town, surrounding twin lakes. I got some funny looks from drivers as I stayed safely (and hyper aware) on the shoulder, running against traffic, but I nailed every single split. I stopped my watch only once when I missed a turn by a tenth of a mile and had to cross the road. Otherwise, I found a rhythm – locked in immediately – and stayed right there.

Beast.

The next week, I was in Ohio to see my dad and visit lots of friends from my hometown. I signed up for a 5K on New Year’s Eve – one I ran four years ago, and recalled as hilly and challenging – which was written into my training plan as a 9 mile total day, and racing the 5K all out. It was brisk and frigid, and I braced against the cold wind for 3 miles out and back to get warmed up. I stripped off my top layer and headed to the start, where I raced and gritted hard. I still wasn’t near my peak 5K form from my PR a couple years ago, but bettered my time from the summer, despite a dreaded hill in the last mile.

In the last tenth of a mile, I saw a woman up ahead (looking out of my age group – she was) whom I’d been using as motivation to keep pushing. I had drawn her close but, so I thought, not close enough. Then the announcer called out my placing. “Here comes the 4th place woman, followed closely by the 5th place woman!” Okay, time to go!

GNYER-1
About when I heard the announcer state the placing…
GNYER-2
Turn on the jets!
GNYER-3
There’s always one more gear

I nipped her at the line and finished in a 2015 best of 21:45 for 4th woman and first in my AG.

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Fleece blanket prize!

Beast.

My long run that weekend…well, that felt less than beastly. After a few days in a row of running in frigid temperature I was no longer used to (the south having already thinned my blood), and wanting more time to spend with my mom on our last day, I pushed my Saturday 16-miler to Sunday, when we’d be back in Athens, with slightly warmer temps. I ran 10 with the Rogue Sunday group, and felt like I was struggling, slow, tired. I took it slower when I ran the final 6 solo, out and back on the only flat roads in town, feeling better near the end. But still – tired.

The next week was mileage heavy, but less intense on paces: a midweek longish run with strides, a 9 mile tempo with 4 miles at marathon pace. Completely manageable, pretty strong. But 17 on Saturday once again felt…tired. Slow. I let a friend I was running with pull me too fast in places, but I slowed way down on the final 6, running with my pal Nina who indicated she was also a little wiped out. We trotted along and caught up on our holidays. Even though I insisted I didn’t feel amazing (though I wasn’t bonking or breaking down or anything), her sentiment was still: Beast.

I flipped through my training journal, wondering what wasn’t clicking. The mileage had started high – a 45-mile week was Christmas week. I was already topping 50 miles. It was like I was in the thick of it already, because I was. This cycle is really more of an extension of the last. A fine tuning. A gearing up. No track work, all long tempos (with strides in some runs to keep speed sharp). Mark is getting me ready for the end: for the last 10K; for the lead; for the jelly; for the wall; for the place where I need to dig down deep and find another scoop, and then another.

On that 17-mile day, it dawned on me: I moved the long run last week to Sunday. My body doesn’t know that my training log is Monday to Sunday. My body doesn’t know the difference between one seven day period and another. My body only knew I had just run 67 miles in the last seven. I laughed about this with my running friends in our never ending group text. No wonder! And there it was again. That word, that feeling, that encouragement. Beast.

Then followed another build week. I prayed my legs would rebound a bit after those seven hard days and rest on Sunday. Double run Monday, all easy, totaling 10. 11 miles Tuesday, with 5 at tempo: half-marathon pace to 15K pace. Dominated. Smashed. I felt indestructible. Sharp. Thursday, I ran 10 easy with some strides. Friday I had 5, and I took them easy and relaxed. I listened to my body.

believeiam-12jan16 tempo

Saturday had in store for me The Beast – the one I had stared at, wide eyed, when I first got the plan. 18 miles, with 4 x 3 at marathon pace. I knew I had it in me, but my legs were tired. I had 36 miles on them already. It’s going to hurt, I told myself as I tried to go to sleep, sleeping fitfully, dreaming about the workout. It’s supposed to hurt. This is how you become a  beast.

I made a plan, running it by Mark to be sure it sounded sane and good and helpful. I’d make a 4-mile loop that was flat, to imitate the course, and after the 2-mile warmup (out and back on Prince Ave), I’d run this loop 4 times to complete the workout. I would do it solo to get ready for the lonely miles, and the loop boredom would also be a good mental exercise. He loved the idea. Time to execute.

I had my alarm set for 5:30, but my eyes were open and my mind was busy by 5:08. My cat, sensing this, started to cry. I sighed, shut off my alarm so Shannon could sleep, fed her and the rabbit, and started getting ready. I had my usual pre-race oatmeal and peanut butter (and half a banana when I was still hungry) and topped off fluids to make a good dress rehearsal. I headed to Hendershot’s to start at about 7 am. A few cars were already there for early miles before the 8 am club run, the one I was skipping. I waved at runners up and down Prince, and as my watch hit mile 2, I switched my brain into workout mode and took off.

The first mile of each loop felt rough – raw, dialing in, mentally taxing. Mile 2 was a little downhill overall, and usually a bit too fast as a result. I was applying the brakes, especially for the first two loops. Mile 3 was grit and keep going, and then I got to rest. I saw a few friends at the end of the first loop, and Chrissy shouted “move your ass!” per my instructions, but I laughed and said I was on my recovery mile, and she laughed and grinned at me. The pace felt pretty good this first loop, but it waffled between MP feel and HMP feel. By the second loop, I was flirting far more with HMP feeling. My legs were not fresh. I really had to focus on keeping this pace. I checked my watch often.

I kept passing the same people, getting funny looks and I think at one point a shout from across the street (I couldn’t tell what they were saying though). Coming back on a recovery mile, I saw the group run coming down Milledge the opposite way. I got cheers and a boost from seeing friends. Big smiles. Encouraging words. Beast.

Laps 3 and 4…they got ugly. The pace started flirting with 10K feel, and thoroughly felt that way near the end. I stopped my watch a couple times in those last two, heaving with breath. I was relieved whenever I got caught by the two major lights on the loop, in either direction. A familiar feeling was settling into my legs: where they’re encased in concrete, but filled with jelly. Where sometimes running feels like falling, like a failing battle with gravity. I knew this feeling well – it felt like the end of a marathon. I kept pushing. My splits kept clicking off on pace or a few seconds faster. My first two recovery miles were in the 8:30s, my legs spinning happily and easily, fast twitch firing away; the last two were much, much slower.

I slammed through the final hard mile in 7:49 and slowed down to a barely jog, and within a tenth of a mile, stopped my watch to draw in a few extra deep breaths. I saw Chrissy once more, this time calling out from her car as she was heading home from the run. I gave her a wave and something like a smile. Then I jogged in the rest of that last mile. At my car, I was taking out my phone and putting down my water bottle and taking off my belt and the plastic bag for my phone fell to the ground, and this was the worst thing ever, my legs shaking near collapsing as I crouched down to get it. I ran into two friends as I was about ot go into Hendershot’s for coffee and we gabbed about our runs. They congratulated me on the workout. I was proud, exhausted, intimidated. It was supposed to feel like this. It was supposed to feel like this.

It was supposed to feel like this.

This week was finally a recovery week. I took Monday’s miles as slowly as my legs would seem to go (which wasn’t even that slow, actually). Six miles Tuesday with some strides seemed to shake out some lead. Thursday morning’s marathon pace tempo scared me a little – would it feel so, so hard again? It didn’t. Relief. Five easy this morning on the treadmill to escape more cold rain as the winter storm closes in.

But last night–last night, the beast cracked. Near bedtime, about to go brush my teeth, I sat at the edge of the bed, Shannon sitting down beside me when he could tell I was upset about something. I unloaded about how emotional of a week I had had (non-running things; life things), exhausted tears welling up. In control. Quietly weeping.

But I broke. I told him what had been whispering inside my chest louder and louder over the last couple of weeks, or at least since that beast of a long run. I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can handle it. What if I fail? What if I quit? What if I’m in those final miles and I just give up? Is this all going to be worth it? It’s going to hurt so, so much. More than it ever has. Or maybe not – because we never really remember the pain at the end of the marathon. Within a couple days, the memory is dulled. A survival mechanism. How else would we  convince ourselves to do it again?

I sobbed in his shoulder. He listened to my darkest fears, my rational and irrational thoughts. What if I can’t?

Finally, slowly, I calmed down. I had had a breakdown like this two weeks before Chickamauga. That one was almost worse – and perhaps I’ll have a bigger one still as I get closer – and he had to talk me down twice within an hour.

As he hugged me, my breathing calming, Shannon said, “I’m almost relieved to see that you’re still human,” he said, recalling how I’ve been crushing my workouts lately. How I seemed almost invincible. That he hadn’t seen me crack. You’re not inside my head, I replied.

There’s a terror in the marathon. There’s a fear. It’s where our brain begs us, stop, don’t, please, no more – because it wants us to hold in reserve when we know we have so much more to give. It’s a defense mechanism. It’s instinctual. It’s programmed into our brain.

But our inner beast can prevail. We can push farther. I’ve been flirting with the edge; this week, I backed away from it, and my body, my mind, my resolve made repairs.

I do want this. I want Boston so badly I can taste it. I don’t go a single day without thinking about it. In that last hard loop last Saturday, I visualized the finish line. I pictured the clock. I imagined glancing at my watch and knowing I had to dig deeper if  I was going to make it – find that safe(r) margin by which to qualify. To feel safe that I’d have a slot. To push to a place I knew I could find within myself. To run on these legs, with these lungs and heart, that are gifts that I can’t take for granted.

After this cutback week ends, I have four hard weeks to build, to grow, to strengthen, before I taper and reap the benefits and get the rest I need. I’ll keep flirting with the edge. I’ll keep pushing it farther out, because I have more in me. I have so much more to give. Because I’m a very human beast.

 

Need for speed

Time for a little ketchup.

Okay, okay. Bad joke.

What have I been up to? Well, for one, a very abbreviated off-season. I took Monday through Thursday off post-race, before diving back in Friday with a 5-miler with Danielle – a warm, humid 5-miler. While I can’t generally complain about how this spring into early summer has been, we did have  a couple of surprise hot and muggy days that were a bit of a shock to the system. Then again, I had forgotten what it was to sweat from a run – and I kinda loved it.

Hail Mary mesh is right – saving grace on a hot run

I contemplated reigniting the run streak again, and while I did eventually, I let myself ease in. Danielle and I changed up some routes – a hilly-as-hell 9-miler though Schenley Park springs to mind (done at an 8:34 average – I blame all the marathon training talk getting our hearts pumping as our splits started creeping into BQ marathon pace range the last few miles, even after all the quad-crushing climbs), and I dove back into cross-training with a vengeance.

We returned to some old favorites, including the 5K ladder workout, a week and a half out from a local 5K we wanted to kick butt at.

This would be the hubs’ data overlay, not mine, but to be far, I wasn’t THAT far behind! We also did this at Schenley Oval, since as you can see, CMU was unusable.

We also got to venture into new territory, including me being stupid about mileage (but it’s okay, because, off-season?). The week of the 5K,  and after, I did the following:

Friday: Kim and I ran 5 miles at goal marathon pace (~8:15) and marveled at how much our legs wanted to click into 7:30s (half-marathon pace) and as a result, how “easy” low 8:00s felt. Hope that remains true! I’m not targeting a BQ (YET) but am training with two women who are, so bring it.

Saturday: 10 miles with the Early Birds! These downright mythical creatures (okay, okay) are an offshoot of Steel City, and all wicked fast and really cool folks. The hubs hung with them, but after the first mile clicked off in 8:0x, Kim and I backed off to 8:30s to cruise the last 9 miles in, which was still a solid effort! And my ACTUAL marathon goal pace. Since we were near REI, I of course had to load up on Picky Bars…

Once again, not my data overlay. Clearly.

Sunday: 1.1ish mile warmup, striders, and raced the It’s About the Warrior 5K.

This tiny local race was at North Park, and as predicted, was an out-and-back starting at the Boat House and going around the lake loop counter-clockwise until the turnaround, which meant just enough rolling hills to keep things interesting. We got in a full mile-plus warm-up, did drills, and got the fast twitch muscles firing with faster-than-race-pace striders. It felt like death, but I knew this was what it should feel like. At least for me.

After some more milling around, they told us to head to the start – you know it’s a gun start when they say “go stand by the ____ shelter” and without any warning whatsoever, the gun went off, and we were off! The hubs and I shared quick wishes of “good luck and have fun!” as we took off at a dead sprint that I quickly tried to rein back in. I took a gander at the field and saw I was probably among the top four or five females (in the admittedly very small race). I figured this was as good a spot as any and tried to lock into right around 6:50ish, which was a good 20 sec/mile faster than my actual PR pace (though I did “break” that PR twice during teach split of the Great Race 10K, though at doesn’t really count).  I started reeling in one girl, then another, and mile 1 clicked off in 6:48 as we headed up a hill, tanking my pace for a bit, but I caught up. I could see my sweetie not too terribly far ahead – though definitely out of striking distance.

As we approached the turnaround and we went for our typical out-and-back high five, I saw there was only one girl ahead of me. I wasn’t sure how much she was scoping out the field, but I just chugged around the turnaround table and started reeling her in, wondering if I should pass her, stalk  right behind her, or hang out right beside her, righting the current and making her sweat. I ended up slowly reeling her in, despite some efforts to stay just off of her, and we ran together for probably a good half mile, trading a few words of encouragement. As we clicked off past the second mile (6:54), I slowly inched past her, knowing it was too soon to kick yet and praying I could just hang on. I had gotten the sense she was struggling to maintain the hot pace she had set, but as the mile counted down, I imagined her hot on my heels, telling my brain not to quit.

Mile 3 came in at 6:40 and I was in absolute agony, perking up a hair when I heard the crowd clap a bit more as I rounded the corner as first female. I neared the chute, a guy I had passed briefly and who then re-passed me, just a few seconds ahead, and I saw that two volunteers were waiting for him to clear the chute… so they could draw a finishing tape across! I couldn’t believe it! I was going to break the tape! The pain gave way to elation as I crossed with arms up and I’m pretty sure a big dumb grin on my face. I’m also fairly certain I heard my husband say, “holy $#%&!!” (in the best way)

I shook hands with the second place girl, who was really nice and a great sport, and we meandered around, sucking down gatorade and eating the post-race snacks until the awards. When I was given an invisible trophy!

Okay, not actually invisible, but sure looks that way.

And my sweetie got first in his (very competitive) age group!

Monday: 6.8ish trail miles with Kelly. Gosh darn beautiful… and warm. And someone – the mom of the second place female, I believe, recognized me from the race, which cracked us both up.

Finally getting to see the greened up trails.

Tuesday: I swore up and down I would take it easy. My legs were DEAD and I was just generally worn out. But when Danielle texted – “same route as last week?” (i.e., 9 miles including Schenley), well, I couldn’t say no! We were both dead tired – me from too many miles and her from racing a 5K on Monday and doing lunges, plus all her other mileage, but it was still pretty fabulous. And we saw a lovely doe, which I never see at Schenley, and it made it all worthwhile.

So there you have it – 35.5ish miles in five days. Whoops…? I put myself on mileage lockdown the rest of the week, but with one mile minimums because…

Yep! Streaking again – I’m counting the official streak, but adding a parenthetical +4 to my counts since I actually started the Thursday before Memorial Day. We’ll see how long it lasts!

 

Race Report: Pittsburgh Half-Marathon

7:37

That’s the pace I’d need to run to break 1:40. The pace that – in September 2011 – was my 5K race pace that left me wanting to vomit a little. The pace that was faster than goal tempo up until the last several months. The pace that was 12 seconds per mile faster than my PR from JASR. And the pace that was kind of scaring the pants off of me. But no matter what, I knew my real goal was to have fun: we have a lot of running pals in the area now, and big plans to see as many of them as possible. So without further ado…

Saturday

My husband and I rolled out of bed at a leisurely 8 a.m. after almost 10 hours of sleep. Ah, bliss. We ate a quick breakfast before heading downtown to the expo, parking at the convention center and then strolling to Market Square to meet up with Kim for a quick shakeout run. Our satellites all went haywire from the buildings, but we kept the effort super, duper easy, ran a couple of bridges to and from North Shore, and talked race strategy before heading back to the expo, Kim grabbing a quick breakfast before rejoining us there. There, we had a special job to do: watch this nugget … …while his mom – our friend Kelly – and her other kiddo ran in the Kids Marathon, the culmination of the 25.2 training miles they did in the weeks leading up to race day, wrapping up with one mile from north side to the downtown finish line. While they prepped for their race, we hit up the expo to grab our bibs and packets and scope out the booths, all while navigating the area with a stroller (moms – HOW DO YOU DO IT?) and watching the clock to make sure we headed out at the appropriate time. Baby and I made good friends while we waited. Or I was a horrible influence. We headed out of the expo to park ourselves a little before the finish line to watch some pretty cool kids run the race with their pretty cool parents.

Kelly, in pink, with her kiddo
Mark and his sweetie pie daughter – her first race! (I think)

We got the baby boy back to his momma (he saw her run by, we think, and then had a little meltdown when she didn’t stick around, so he very much wanted to be with her again. Poor tyke!), who gave us bottles of WINE to say thank you (seriously, I’d hang out with that kid for free) before heading back to the expo for a bit. I caught up with Danielle for a few minutes, my hubby bought discounted shoes, we both got some fuel, and True Runner through in a cowbell as a bonus. The rest of the afternoon we tried to stay off of our feet. We had fortunately done our shopping the night before (Giant Eagle is DEAD at 8pm-ish on a Friday evening – protip). Late in the afternoon, my former childhood neighbor Liz and her running buddy Carol arrived from Toledo. We chatted for a while before they each headed out for their respective dinner plans, while the hubs and I had our usual granola pancake dinner (all leftovers, actually). Everyone was home around 8 or 8:30 and by 9 pm we were all winding down – stretching, foam rolling, and heading to bed as soon as possible. The 4 am alarm waited for no runner.

Race Day

As usual, I’m pretty sure I was already awake when the alarm went off – though groggy, in a what the hell is that annoying sound? oh wait that’s the alarm TIME TO WAKE UUUPPPPzzzzz kind of way. But it was time to go: oatmeal, coffee (instant, because I’m lame and forgot to buy coffee filters, which I thought I still had laying around), and about a thousand trips to the bathroom before Devin and my running partner Danielle arrived and we all headed to the race! We took a longer route to get to North Shore just in case of early road closures, and after one misstep, parked a half mile-ish (maybe longer) walk across a bridge and to the start. We hit up some untouched porto-potties on the walk over, and had a photographer stop us for a group shot, still carrying our bags and wearing our throwaways.

pre-race group 1
Left to right: the hubs, Devin, Liz, Carol, me, and Danielle

pre-race group 2   After some discussion and bag dropping, we decided to chill in Market Square for a while, snagging a big table with plenty of seats, near a cluster of portos, which, yeah, we hit up like two or three more times (or was that just me?).  20ish minutes to start, we headed to the corrals, wishing each other luck and splitting up. Before I knew it, the anthem was being played, and I was running (my warmup! I guess) with my hat in my hand, trying to get to A corral. We GU’d up, stripped off our throwaways (after much deliberation, the outfit I landed on was the winona tank, bum wrap, and arm warmers (all Oiselle), and CEP compression calf sleeves. And, of course, Brooks Launch, and some swiftwick socks on my feet), and squeezed into the corral, locating the 3:20 marathon pace group (since there was no 1:40 half group) and finding Kim, who had the same goal. Score! A few minutes later, it was gun time – go time.

The Race

After the typical start line bottleneck, I hit START on my Garmin a few strides before the mat, exhilarated and excited. We tucked near the pacer and I soaked up the sights and sounds. I had chosen to race as long as I could without music, my iPod strapped to my arm, ear buds tucked into the pocket of my bum wrap. I felt calm, yet excited; focused, and thrilled. I was racing with my husband. I was racing with Kim. I was gunning for a 1:40, or at least a PR (previous PR at JASR being 1:42:17). But at the end of the day, I wanted to just enjoy every step running through this city I have grown to love. Some spitting rain had shown up during the last 20 minutes pre-race and kept on a little bit into the race, but I felt comfortable, and within the first three miles, shed my throwaway gloves (I just used a pair of thin winter gloves that needed to be retired anyway since they were getting very frayed). It was kind of hilarious running with a marathon pace group, since so many of the cheers we got were “yeaahhhh go 3:20!!!” But, I’ll take it. The pacer was also calling out how far off pace we were (not much) and reassuring everyone not to worry, that we would make it up. I appreciated him easing in, though.

7:47. 7:41. 7:30

Up Liberty and then doubling back down Penn, we curved onto the first bridge: 16th street (one of my favorites, actually – it’s beautiful) to hit up the north side. The first few miles are super flat, but the rolling hills began with the bridges and I buckled up for the task of really working the hills and my experience on the course to my advantage. On the bridge, the pacer called out that the last split was on pace, and that we were 20 seconds behind overall (well, you know, approximately). No biggie. The miles clicked off and I tried to stay even and relaxed behind the pacer. Kim seemed to be feeling great and surged ahead of him a bit. I monitored my breathing – in control – and stayed near my husband, the first time actually racing together in quite a while.  I took my first gel at the first water stop I was prepared for, which was I think at 4ish. Soon we were onto the double-bridge cross: you run 9th Street into downtown, run down two blocks which are LINED with people, and head back across on 7th. I’d work the rollers, and feed off the crowds, I told myself. _dsc0712 _dsc0715 _dsc0716 _dsc0718 _dsc0719 _dsc0720 The crowd was a little quiet as we moved from bridge to bridge, so I moved my hand to my ear and motioned to the crowd to pump it out. I got cheers and cowbells in response and tried to keep my pulse and pace from jumping too high. What a rush. Back across to the north side and past the first marathon relay exchange, I eyed my 10K overall time as we crossed the mat – a little slower than I’d hoped but not bad.

7:43. 7:37. 7:38

Official 10K split: 48:01 (7:43 pace)

 We rolled down a hill and headed toward the West End Bridge, which is a big one, but with a great view of downtown. At this point, I was very much on the outskirts of the pace group, and by the bridge, I had lost contact. I also lost Kim from my rearview after a water stop right around 10K. I kept the pace group and my husband in view but let myself follow my own feet: it was time to run my own race, especially as we made the Steuben Street climb right after the bridge ended. The rollers were starting to get to me, but as we spun around Steuben to Main to eventually land on Carson, I laughed and grinned as a band played “500 Miles” (modified for running, naturally), cruising down a hill. I tried to bring my pace back up and my effort back down by increasing my cadence, a tactic that seemed to be working. The pace group and the hubs were still out of reach, but I was holding steady as we reached Carson. By mile 8 or so, I was feeling slight twinges to turn on my music. But every time, I got a distraction. A girl who looked to be about 14 was running with her mom – she was going at a great clip but was suffering and her mom urged her on. I gave her a quick “you’ve got this” and kept on. We came upon the usual contingent of military folks, and even as I felt my pace and heart rate sky rocket, I still got as many high-fives as I could. Worth it. But it was still starting to get mentally taxing. I had lost sight of the pace group (I think they were going a bit fast, possibly banking time before the more brutal hills on the second half of the marathon) but I mostly had my husband in my sights, keeping an eye on his dark gray shirt and bright white compression socks. I made myself a deal: make it to mile 10, quickly evaluate, and if needed, turn on music. I also realized I probably needed a gel, and took one at 9.5 or so, a little ahead of a water stop.

7:40. 7:33. 7:38. 7:58

Yeah, I needed it. Out came the earbuds and I plugged right in, accidentally skipping a song, but it was perfect: on came “Get Lucky,” the perfect mind calmer and rhythm setter. I shouted to the crowd: “Let’s hear it, Southside!” and got a cheer echoed back. The split was coming. Soon we were spilling onto Birmingham Bridge – big and brutal – and the split was done: marathoners to the right, halfers to the left. I tucked in and pushed up, trying to stay relaxed. And I was drawing closer to my guy.

brains
I call this my zombie photo. BRRRRAAAAAIIIIINNNSSSS

beatthebridge2 beatthebridge3 beatthebridge4

As the bridge reached its peak, I found myself drawing abreast of my guy, giving him a very quick glance, but mostly providing him quiet company. We turned left onto Forbes and had the last steep climb, which I knew was coming – but had forgotten just how bad it was. I was trying maintain pace. Then I gave that up and tried to maintain effort. Dear lord please let this end. Can I make it up this hill? I want to walk. I NEED to walk. No, I just WANT to walk. Don’t walk. Just a little farther… (apparently he knew I was having this debate in my head – I think he knows me well or something)

The hill finally ended – or at least the portion – and we wove onto Blvd of the Allies, a long, gradual climb, but I knew exactly where it ended. The desire to quit and walk went away, and I rallied everything inside of me to just keep calm, be patient, and wait for the hill to end and the descent to start. And it would happen just after the mile 12 mark.

7:43. 8:04.

The hill – finally, mercifully – ended, and something in me clicked. I switched songs (Lady Gaga’s “Applause”) and took off.

The course goes down and down and down and down.

elevation pgh 2014
No but seriously: the last couple miles

I rode the hill, picking up my cadence and feeling the miles and miles of pounding in my feet, begging the blisters I was starting to feel to hold off just one more mile. A girl blew past me and I gave chase – not completely, but enough not to hold back, not to give up just yet. I rode the hill as long as I could, and as it began to flatten, looked at my overall time and cursed. A man next to me asked if I was going to break 1:40. “Not quite,” I said. But I was still not going to give in. The song ended and I restarted it as the flat began to climb just a little – only a little, but so cruel. The finish line was right down the street, but not in sight. I knew I was about a 10th of a mile off, but I wouldn’t look at my distance, glancing down only when I saw mile 13 tick off.

6:47

The hill ended and it was all downhill to the finish, the banner at last in sight. I didn’t know how close I was – I knew sub-1:40 was just out of reach (after some back-and-forth on the mush brain mental math) – but I prayed for my own watch not to tick over 1:41. In the last few strides, I had no kick left to give, felt like I was slowing, felt like my legs were oozing out from under me, and prayed that I would just. hold. on.

stretchrun1 stretchrun2 stretchrun3 stretchrun4

Final sprint: 6:07 pace

I flew across the line, arms in the air, and hit stop on my watch, gasping for air and chocking back tears.

finishing1 finishing2 finishing3

Chip time: 1:40:40 (7:40 avg) – new PR***

Post-race

A volunteer was instantly in front of me, helping me stand. I reassured her that I was okay, that I was just really happy, that I always do this (seriously – does anyone else cry at the finish line? Because it’s like every. damn. half.). I stumbled over to get my medal and looked back to see my husband had finished just behind me (27 seconds, I believe). He looked ready to fall down and/or vomit, so I broke the rules and stopped moving, then walked over to him to rub his back and help him walk to get his medal. We stumbled through the volunteers to snag our finishing photos. And I noticed how badly I had chafed under my right arm.

owchafing

derp official finish 2We grabbed all the food we could get our hands on and found Kim, all making our way to the FedEx tent for post-race massages, catching up with a few other folks there, including Mark.

A little bit later, we caught up with Devin, who finished in about 2:05 – a 15 minute PR!!! After a bit more stretching and relaxing, we packed it in and hobbled to the car. We had a brunch to throw! We took turns with the shower and shuffled to the end of our street where the marathon passes, clanging our new cowbell and cheering for the marathoners for about 20 minutes before we needed to head in to set up and start cooking.

Between noon and about 4:30 we had a steady stream of runner friends, and their partners, as well as a couple of kiddos. People rolled in and out depending on finish time, schedules, and distance. We traded war stories, gossiped about local running happenings, tracked our friends, drank mimosas, and ate like runner kings: bacon, pancakes cooked in bacon grease, bagels from Bagel Factory, fruit, and French toast.

Seriously. How did we live without griddle? And bacon-grease cooked pancakes?

I of course took no photos – but at least that means I was really in the moment and enjoying myself, right?

Now what?

Well, now, I rest. A little. I’m planning on doing a 16-week marathon training cycle for Air Force, starting June 2. Injected with a whole lot of confidence, I’m hoping to tackle the cycle with grit and determination; high mileage and marathon pace workouts; speed and form training; and strength training that will hopefully get me to the start line as a solid sheet of muscle (or something like that).

Maybe that will help me make up for the lack of marathon experience.

Maybe.

Highs and Lows of Lucky ’13

Taking a tip from my nerdy fiance, who took it from @TheCranberryKid, instead of a full-on, way-too-detailed-to-be-interesting-to-anyone-but-me Year in Review, here are my highs and lows for the year. And I have to say, this really puts things into perspective – this was a great year for my running life.

Let’s get the low out of the way:

I can summarize my low of this year in three letters: DNF. Aye, there’s the rub. It burns. It stings. It rankles. It’s the monkey on my back. If I hadn’t rolled my ankle two days out… if I hadn’t decided to wear that ankle brace that seemed to cramp up my foot so badly (or bruise it, or whatever that agonizing feeling was with every step beginning around mile 16)… what would I have accomplished? Would I have gotten that sub-4? Or at least a PR by a few minutes? Would I have blown up, but at least have finished my second 26.2? Would I have surpassed all my wildest expectations?

Ice and bourbon were my only friends (okay, not true at all)

There’s no way of knowing. Like there’s know way knowing if not wearing the brace would have changed the outcome. But it’s hard not to dwell. Instead, I”m choosing to let it fuel my fire for next year. A strong marathon is my priority. I’ll still be working on my speed for the half, but with a heavy focus on building mileage and strength smartly.

First run back from MCM DNF/ankle sprain was 2 miles on the treadmill (with long walking warm-up). And I was ecstatic.

I know I have it in me, especially from my list of highs:

Air Force half

PRs: I lowered my 5K PR twice (distance corrected about 22:20, but I have since bettered that in a 10K so I can do it faster next time). I lowered my 10K PR three times (now 44:02). I lowered my half-marathon PR three times (now 1:43:56)

I raced new distances. The 26.2K Run for Gold was a beautiful course, I made a new friend, and stunned myself by how well I could keep my goal marathon pace (or faster) for 16+ miles, even early on in training. The 3K Sweet Sprint the previous month showed me that yes, there was something more painful than a 5K. It also got the ball rolling with new running friends…

26.2k
3K

I ran a lot with new friends. NF and I met Mark finally in person at the Sweet Sprint, and I connected with Danielle, whom I had encountered at the Burgh 10K in April, getting caught up in a race with a pack of girls, including her. We didn’t introduce ourselves then, but by November, we began a regular weekly run together.  Mark and Kelly joined NF and I on my birthday run, and I have since gone on a few trail runs with Kelly and our friend Kim. Snow? Fabulous. Mud? Bring it. Tons of deer and wild turkeys – okay!

Muddy trail feet! Kelly’s photo (also featuring Kim’s feet – we need a picture of our faces at some point!)
We’ll never actually run “with” Mark. Just near him. Using a broad definition of “near.”
Actually chatting with Danielle for the first time! Beginning of a great running friendship

Running with old friends – I had a couple of opportunities to run with Keeley, as well as our former Ragnar teammate, Rose. I paced a lot of the Pittsburgh and Air Force half-marathons with Danimal, and NF and I continued to run together regularly. We realized just how great it is to not just be in a relationship with a running buddy, but to live with that person. Don’t want to get up? Tough. The other person is dragging you out of bed. Here, take this foam roller. Need a foot rub? I gotcha. I also traveled to Seattle and ran with my bet friend from college, Abby. Abby is in many ways responsible for my reignited passion for running during the last couple yeas of college, senior year in particular. We got each other out the door and I learned the joy of exploring the city and telling endless stories over miles, an aspect of running I had been missing for the first several years.

Higher mileage – I hit 50 miles in a seven-day period at least twice this year, and it’s something I”d like to manage more often. First: it felt GREAT. Second, the speed gains from high mileage are amazing. Sure, I know I got faster in the last year-plus period because I’ve been diligent about my speedwork and tempo runs, but both marathon training cycles (fall 2012 and this fall) led to explosive speed gains.

The run streak. I kind of love it. I know I”m sort of an obsessive and self-competitive person, so it remains to be seen how long I keep it up (without being dumb, of course), but I love how the easy 1- or 2-mile runs on “rest” days have led to fewer aches. Running those short guys on the ‘mill made it easy to cross-train more, since I was already at the gym and warmed up, as a result. It also got my mileage back up, gradually, post-marathon season, and I hit over 30 miles last week! And over 100 in the month of December. That is UNHEARD OF for me, especially in the cold, busy, travel-laden final month of the year.

A DNF, especially one related to a stupid injury so soon before a goal race, can overshadow a great deal, but looking at my year in the rearview like this, all I can hope is to keep it up. The fire is there – I re-fell in love with running this year – more than once. I have a lot more running buddies who make me laugh, make me push, make me so excited to lace up, even in the roughest conditions, even in the darkest of moods.

There will be more bumps on my running road, to be sure, but for now, to 2014 I say: bring. it. on.

#RWRunStreak Day 12 and 26.2 thoughts…

It’s Day 12 of the #RWRunStreak and it’s still alive! Yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of shorties, but I’m also very carefully building my base back up. It makes for a lot of one-milers, but it’s also jump-starting me back into the mileage I’d like to hold off-season. I say this now, of course, two weeks BEFORE Christmas travel/mass hysteria begins, but let’s just wave our hands around and ignore that for the moment.

As the running gods and RW editors intended, Day 1 of the streak began with a Turkey Trot – we ran an absolutely freezing, snow-coated, slippery, totally insane five-miler in downtown Cleveland on Thanksgiving morning. In better conditions, the course had the makings of a very fast five-miler. Which would’ve been nice, since my five-mile PR is still on a course that is all downhill four for miles, than an excruciating .66 mile climb in the last mile that completely obliterates my overall pace. *sad trombone*

But the stars did not align for a fast day. We drove downtown early in the morning for packet pickup and it was FREEZING. We braced against the cold as we marched into Public Hall to get our bib and sit inside in the warmth. I stripped off a lot of my layers so they wouldn’t lose their effectiveness. About 15 minutes to start, we approached the doors, and with maybe 7 minutes to go, we followed the herd outside into the bracing cold.

This was also a much larger race than we had anticipated. All told I think there were about 8,000 runners (I think 10,000 signed up – shows you how brutal it was out there, wind chill in the teens, along the lake, and actively snowing) and we didn’t line up very far to the front. It was a slow start, but given the slick conditions, a layer of now dusting the road and still falling, it was probably for the best. I lost NF within a half mile, and a little later, I saw a guy completely wipe out crossing marble in front of a statue where a lot of folks were cutting a sidewalk. It was snow-covered and like a sheet of ice, so his feet went completely out from him and he landed straight on his back. I knew then this was not a day to race.

Except for the half-a-dozen huskies I saw on the course who looked like they were on cloud nine. This as THEIR race.

I managed to crank out decent paces, all things considered. The first mile was a sea of humanity, so I squeaked in just under 9:00, but I started picking it up.

CLE TT 13 splits

The middle miles were fast and flat and not too slick, though it got dicey again at the end, and the last 200 feet were VERY slippery. No finishing kick for me! But it was a pretty good tempo-ish effort with extra resistance from the snow. And hey! I haven’t lost all my speed! Success!

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And look how great and happy I look! …
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Best race face ever?

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The rest of Thanksgiving weekend, we kept it pretty short: two 1.5-milers the next two days, and a 3-miler Sunday morning on an old standby route of mine from summers I was home from college.

Last week it was back in business: cross-training, running longer, and sprinkling in short runs for the “off” days. Last Tuesday, we put our run off til the evening, having woken up feeling pretty awful. We ran 3.25ish after work in the low 50s. I overdressed in shorts and a long sleeve (Oiselle’s long sleeve flyte = best. thing. ever.) Is this really December?

Next to our light up spinny Christmas tree for comparison. FOR REALZ. SHORTS WEATHER.

That Thursday was an absurd 57* at 5 a.m. when I woke up to run with Danielle. I checked the temperature on my phone. Didn’t buy it. Checked weather.com. Nope, that’s ridiculous. Half-stepped onto the balcony. Well, yes, okay, it’s warm. I hopped into a singlet and my bum wrap and felt absurd.  It was December. I was going to FREEZE. But a few minutes later I stood outside my building waiting for Danielle and knew I made the right choice. Last shorts/singlet run until at least April? Possibly, but who knows. Either way, we had a great run, heading through Oakland and Shadyside for 6.7ish miles and chatting about wedding planning adventures, our respective Thanksgivings, and work.

Then, the weather got gross. Like, the next day. My wonderful guy brought me hot chocolate when a packet of cocoa mix I found buried in the pantry was kind of blech. He made a special trip in the freezing rain to give me this treat (blah blah it was just a little bit of a walk from the bus stop blah blah, he’s still a prince)

His and hers hot cocoa

Fortunately the freezing rain turned to snow and the roads were nicely cleared for Saturday morning, because I had a trip out to North Park that I’d been looking forward to all week! I met up with Kelly and Kim to hit the trails, and we made tracks following the red blazes, seeing a handful of deer, a couple hikers, one (maybe two?)other  trail runner, and a couple of mountain bikers. It was quiet and perfect breaks in conversation punctuated only by our breathing, the crunch of the snow, and the swishing off all of our tech fibers as our limbs moved.  Gorgeous.

Momma and baby
No spots, but this little guy was SUPER fuzzy

I stopped by Starbucks on the way home to get some hot chocolate for NF and myself – and treated us btoh to some apple fritters. He joined the True Runner group for 9 miles on icy sidewalks, which I think calls for an extra treat.

Two more one-milers – outside on the hazardous sidewalks yesterday (including me saying “NOPE NOPE NOPE going in the street” at one point) and one on the ‘mill today before a legs workout) – and that brings us to today. I’ve got 7 miles planned with Danielle tomorrow, and am thinking of attempting a very short tempo run on Thursday if the sidewalks allow. We’re traveling down to Athens, GA, to see NF’s youngest sister graduate, but we’re hoping to get a long-ish run in and keep the streak going otherwise.

I know that, all things considered, it’s still early in the streak, but so far I feel good. Been stretching and foam rolling plenty, and the very short runs in between longer efforts seem to shake out soreness. I’m also loving running all the more. Yeah, sometimes I don’t want to be out there in inclement weather, but it’s “only a mile,” and quite a few of my short runs I’ve been doing on the treadmill as warm-ups for other workouts.

And of course, as my mileage builds, and with hopes to get a higher base than the lackadaisical 15-20 mpw I’ve been beginning my season with the last couple years, there’s still a big ol’ monkey on my shoulder: the marathon.

Here’s the thing: we don’t know where we’re going to be next fall. NF is slated to graduate next September, so we could stay in Pittsburgh … or we could end up on the other side of the country. Right now it’s way too soon to tell. So can we really commit to a fall marathon that’s maybe convenient for us here right now, but may not be when it actual rolls around?

I’m not ready to commit yet, but it’s very tempting to just say I’ll sign up or the Air Force Marathon rather than the half. We always register on January 1 when the rate is the absolute cheapest, which means we only have a couple of weeks to decide.  NF doesn’t really want to run the full then – I don’t blame him. It’ll be a very, very stressful time for him. But do I? Can I train for it partly/mostly on my own? Do I want to marathon train during peak summer and possibly race in the heat (though we’ve lucked out with pretty good to great temps on race day at Air Force every year since 2011)? Or should we wait for later in the fall? There are so many options: Steamtown. Columbus. Grand Rapids. Atlanta. Towpath. Richmond. Philly (done it, probably would rather run something new). Toronto.

There’s a lot to consider. But mark my words. Come hell or high water, unless some stupid misstep and subsequent ankle injury hits me again, I’m getting my sub-4 marathon next year. I’m getting my revenge.

MCM: Anatomy of a DNF

DNF – runner-speak for Did Not Finish.  It’s a hard pill to swallow, but at one point or another, every runner experiences it, at least once. Ever since my ankle twist on Friday, I knew it was a possibility – it was also possible I would DNS (did not start). But I was walking fine, had good strength and mobility, and wanted to give it a shot.

I don’t think I have it in me to write too much about all the excitement and build-up, because usually i do that to emphasize how great the race was – especially this year, which until this weekend was an absolutely stellar one (and still is, really, this race being the only blemish). But I want to be as frank as possible because if even one other injured runner who had to pull out of a race reads this, I want him/her to know that he/she isn’t alone – it’s a hard decision, and no one else can make it but you. Only you know what’s going on in your own body and mind. So here are my most raw and honest thoughts.

The expo and weekend

This was our biggest race expo ever. The packet pick-up was in a separate tent, run by super-friendly Marines who had me grinning from ear-to-ear (they were all awesome, and so, so inspiring).

And the expo itself? Doesn’t even fit in an instagram photo

I got myself a couple bondi bands, which I’d been meaning to buy as an in-between to keep my ears covered when I don’t need a full, super-warm earband.

We had an awesome sushi dinner out with our lovely hosts, Emmarie and Chris. They took awesome care of us, especially considering they had had a crazy week as well as a busy weekend. Emmarie, for the record, makes a FANTASTIC bourbon Manhattan (pictured in my previous post). Between that and continuing to RICE my ankle, I figured I could be in good shape in no time (despite that by that evening when I removed the ace bandage, I saw how swollen and black-and-blue the ankle was. Eek. But still walking fine!)

Saturday we spent a little time touring around after attended the charity luncheon I was invited to as a runner on the ZERO Cancer team. We spent a bit too much time on our feet for being the day before a marathon, but my ankle still felt fine, and was less swollen that day.

Oh hey, the White House!
Basically a photobomb.

That night, we made our usual pre-race grub: granola and cinnamon pancakes, with tons of syrup, eaten in front of an episode of Stargate SG-1.

Baby pancake!

We got to bed late, and I was pretty wired, and slept like absolute garbage, pure usual pre-race. But the pre-race nerves in my chest were not the usual: Will I make my goal? Will I hit the wall? Will I quit or will I push? Will I have an amazing, magical, stars-falling-into-line kind of day?

The knot in my stomach told me one thing: I wasn’t even sure my left foot would allow me to finish the race. The bruising and swelling was way down, sure. I had done ankle exercises with a resistance band to check mobility and loosen it a bit, and done some careful calf raises, and everything felt pretty good (I couldn’t quite get my left foot to the very top of the calf raise, but that was no biggie, and it mostly just felt tight). I set aside my soft brace with the rest of my race morning gear in case I decided to wear it – I knew I would for sure be wearing compression socks.

Race day

The alarm blared at 4:30 a.m. and I’m pretty sure I was already wide awake. I snuck out of bed to get the oatmeal going and discover that I wasn’t quite as adequately hydrated as I would have liked (ahem) so I chugged 16 ounces of water (trust me, this matter later. Hydration strategy fail). I got the perfect consistency for both bowls, so hoped that this was a good omen for both of us. After much waffling in the days prior, I settled on a long-sleeve tech tee, charity singlet layered over, Oiselle bum wrap, purple ProCompression socks, gloves, bondi band, and of course of my trusty Brooks Launch.

Our LOVELY WONDERFUL KIND SWEET AMAZING HOSTS got up at like 5:20 to drive us to one of the parking shuttle pick-up points, since the bus we would have needed wasn’t running that early, even on race morning. We said our goodbyes, knowing we wouldn’t see Emmarie again and not expecting to see Chris, and jumped to the back of the line, which was HUGE but pretty fast moving, before climbing onto the super-swank charter buses with the super-cheesy but motivational information video playing as we drove to the starting area.

HUGE BUS
HUGE (GOOFY) SMILE

We immediately headed for the porto-potties before squatting in one of the tents to get all our gear arranged – we were running without water, so had to jam all our gels in our spibelts, plus our cell phones which we decided to run with (I’m glad I did – I could notify people ASAP who were tracking me that, no, I wasn’t dead).

Cutie 🙂

Before long, it was time to walk over to the self-sorting corrals, marked by estimated finish time (seriously, run-walkers – I adore all of you, you seriously rock, but please, for the love of all things holy, line up where you should), listen to the National Anthem as sung by a fabulous a cappella group, watch at least half a dozen parachuters float down, some carrying huge American flags, and wait for the howitzer to fire.

The Race

This was our biggest race ever, so even the previous crowded starts weren’t really a match for this. It was truly a sea of humanity. The start is on a split highway with a median strip, and we happened to be on the left, which within the first mile went a totally different way than the right side for like a tenth of a mile and completely flipped me out. I mean, it was fine – they merged back up again and I’m guessing there is zero (or minimal) distance difference, but man was that weird. Our first few splits were slow – very slow – especially the second mile which probably has the only hill of consequence in the entire race, and it really wasn’t a joke. I had kind of written it off, but it was already hard to find a solid pace in the thick of so many runners, let alone when clawing through going uphill. Won’t underestimate it again should I run this race in the future (hopefully).

It stayed pretty crowded through mile five, but we were able to lock in by mile 4 and hovered between 8:3x’s and 9:0x’s. I kept my watch to overall time for a while, though I eventually switched to lap estimate, but generally tried to ignore it and soak things up. It’s a really beautiful course. At one point we were on rolling hills bordered by a thick grove of trees, then we were running along the Potomac. It was spectacular. We saw WAY more public urination than ever before (we’d been warned of this) and saw at least one runner totally bite it on the ground (yeeowch! Like I said – crowded), but most of the sights were very positive.

I had had that “nervous pee” feeling at the start line, but as the miles ticked off toward 10K, I realized it wasn’t going away. It wasn’t just nerves – I had to go. I passed up a porto opportunity and begged the feeling to subside, but my gut was very uncomfortable, and during mile 9, I apologized to my guy and told him I needed a potty break, and that I’d see him at the finish. We exchanged “I love you’s” and “good luck” wishes and parted ways. I lost probably 60 to 90 seconds to the stop, but it was totally worth it. That was a first for me – must figure out how not to let that happen again (like not chugging 16 ounces of water when I woke up, without allowing for a secondary pre-race potty stop?).

After that, I was locking into 8:30s and 8:40s and feeling pretty darn good. I got a great boost a couple miles later when I saw Bart Yasso and yelled out “Bart!” (because we’re friends, obviously) and got a high five. I saw him again a few miles later and got similarly amped.

Around the halfway point, I saw I was coming in around 2:01.30ish – slower than I had wanted, but it was basically all the bathroom break, and I was still clocking sub-9s, so I knew I could make up the time and could still nab a sub-4:00, or close to it. I ran astride with another woman holding a similar pace for a while, and I think we kind of silently paced off each other.

Then there was the blue mile. Oh, the blue mile. It’s silent, and lined with photographs and flags – photos of fallen Marines, each one with his name, his age, and when they were killed in action. I tried to force myself to look – to dwell on the memory of these brave men and women, to feel the way I know that mile is supposed to make you feel: humble, grateful, saddened, yet filled with patriotic hope. But I had to spend a lot of time looking away and focusing on my pace and my rhythm, or else I’d have been struggling all the more to breathe as I choked back the tears that continually threatened.

Past the halfway point, I felt myself getting into my own head, but my pace was still right on. I had known for a while that my distance was pretty thrown off – when I was still with NF, we ran under a long overpass, and satellites went haywire, clocking us at 10:00+ min/mile pace, when we weren’t slowing down at all. The pace corrected, but we lost a good quarter mile, so I knew I’d have a little more time to make up, and of course the mile markers came in very strangely compared to the course.

Mile 16 was my decision point. I had decided, somewhat last minute, to go ahead and wear the soft ankle brace. I had brought it with, attached it to my fuel belt, and slipped it on over my compression sock as we were getting situated pre-race. Now it was noticeably digging into my foot and getting uncomfortable. I took a minute to pull off to the side and remove it, and then jogged off, sliding it onto my fuel belt so it would be secure and out of the way.

But the damage was done. I’ll never know if it was just the brace pinching/bruising/cramping my foot, if it was the ankle, if my gait was ever so slightly altered those first 16 miles, but I was very suddenly in a lot of pain. The outside of my left foot felt like it was being stabbed. I tried to walk it out, tried to figure out if it was just a cramp, but nothing seemed to be working. I broke it a jog, and almost immediately had to stop again.

So many people saw the agony on my face, the limp in my walk. Onlookers tried to encourage me to keep going, telling me I could do it. Runners who passed me tried to buck me up, one even patting me on the shoulder and trying to press me onwards. But I could barely walk, let alone run.

I stupidly passed up a med station just before my absolute breaking point, and as I searched for another one – or for a Marine, or a volunteer, or anyone who could help, I saw a PIttsburgh legend – the shirtless guy (yes, he has a name, but so many of us know him as the shirtless guy). He is at EVERY Pittsburgh race, and he’s always – yes, running shirtless – kicking ass, and when he finishes, high-fiving everyone coming in. I said hello and told him I recognized him from the local race scene. We asked each other how our races were going, and I admitted I was injured and about to drop out. He said he wanted to just make it to mile 18 and consider it a good training run (he was walking, too). We parted ways after a water stop, and soon after I saw a couple Marines and stepped to the side.

“I need to drop out,” I said, tears choking my words as I finally was saying it out loud. I hit stop on my watch. “Where’s the next med tent?” I stepped to the side as a woman tried to hand me a bottle of water, and fell to a crouch and burst into tears. It was over. Sixteen weeks of preparation – of blood, sweat, and tears. Of long tempos and endless mile repeats and shattered PRs at the half-marathon and 10K and early mornings and sacrifices to my social life and sleep and sometimes even almost my sanity. It was over, and had probably been over the moment I took that misstep Friday morning and rolled my ankle during an easy three-miler.

The Marine directed me across the grass to the next med tent, around mile 19. My watch read 18.13 when I quit but it was closer to 17.75 on the course because of GPS screw-ups. I hobbled over, starting to get cold, and had to jog across to the other side when there was the slightest break in runners.

The Marines in the med tent were amazing. They sat me down and examined my foot, had me fill out an intake form, and then took me inside, helping me ice my foot and wrapping me in wool blankets. I spent the next ninety-minutes contacting family and friends who were tracking me, and chatting with another injured runner – a 43-time marathoner who had to drop out around the same time as me with a gnarly IT band injury. She comforted me when I cried once more and we bitched about our frustrations and we heard each other’s war stories.

After a lot of waiting, the sweeper bus came by a little before 1:30, and I was stuck on it (despite it being full) for the next two hours. I’ve never been on a sweeper before, so I don’t know the usual system, but there were runners who were on there for three hours. There must be a better way. Everyone was pretty nice, though, and there was lots of clapping for those who didn’t quite “beat the bridge” and got pulled for not making it to mile 20 by 1:30 p.m. for road re-openings. And the ladies sitting around me were very sweet as they saw me limp on (not to mention the Marine I had to send back to the med tent when I left my phone on the cot like a dumbass. Thank you, sir!).

It was about 3:45 when I finally reunited with my guy, and at that point I wasn’t teary-eyed, just relieved to see him (you can read his race report here).  We hobbled through the Metro and made our way back to the apartment, where Chris was there to greet us (since it took so friggin’ long to get back). We had zero time to relax – it was shower, pack, hit the road immediately, though we took a leisurely dinner stop at Buffalo Wild Wings (which we haven’t had since JUNE), before making the rest of the drive, getting home after 11 p.m.

My handsome guy with his medal 🙂

So… what now?

Well, now it’s time for me to heal. At this point, my ankle is still a little swollen but fine to walk on (though I’ll continue to drive to work until the swelling is totally gone, so I don’t overtax it). I’ve been finding a heating pad feels better on the foot and ankle than ice at this point. I’m taking a week off from running, bare minimum, but possibly two depending on how this injury heals.

And my psyche? Well, it took a hit. As you can see from my data, I was totally fine… until I wasn’t (first three miles were the crowds, mile 9 was the potty break). Part of me wants redemption, right-friggin’-now. But another part of me wants a big ol’ break, which I’ve been looking forward to for a while. I had just hoped it would feel like a great reward to cap off a very successful season.

But here’s the thing – it still was a very successful season. I lowered my half-marathon PR three times this year: as of the very beginning of this year, my PR had been 1:59:03. It is now 1:43:56. I’ve also lowered my 10K best three times, and my 5K PR twice. If that’s not an incredibly successful year, I don’t know what is.

Yes, I’m probably going to cry some more over this DNF. Yes, I’ve cursed and I’ve yelled and I’ve gotten irrationally angry. But I made the right choice. I didn’t quit – I stopped when I knew it was wise to do so. When I knew I would be doing more damage, setting myself back more than just pushing past a little marathon pain.

And now, I have a score to settle. Next year, it’ll be mine. Next year, I’ll get that sub-4 hour marathon… and who knows what else?